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Okinawa cities, villages scramble to find money

Date Posted: 2005-03-04

Japan’s new fiscal year begins April 1st, and it promises to be a year of near desperation for Okinawa’s municipalities.

Virtually all of Okinawa’s cities, towns and villages are warily eying the new economic reforms going into effect across Japan, a result of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Trinity Reform Plan. That plan shifts the burden for budgets and tax collections from the central government down to local communities.

“We have financial problems, yes” said one mayor. The budgets are tight across Okinawa, and the various local leaders say they don’t know how they will survive, or at least, provide adequate services to their constituents. There are 51 municipalities in Okinawa, and virtually all are hard hit by the changes.

Ishigaki, Katsuren Town and Yonashiro Town officials didn’t share in the survey being conducted the past several weeks about how to deal with budget shortfalls. “It’s a very serious problem,” said another mayor. Only 12 of the 48 responding mayors aren’t worried, calling “the budget is not enough, but not anything serious.”

Asked how the local governments plan to cover financial shortages, 37 say “we are going to take money from the strike fund and also cut expenses.” Eleven say they’ll begin cutting worker salaries and supplies, and also dump new projects. Subsidies to a wide variety of projects and programs are being slashed as well. Most cities and towns had been receiving subsidies to schools, kindergartens, and some private enterprises. Services are now going to have to be paid for. One mayor says “now everybody’s life is going to be hard.”

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