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Mayoral election campaign officially begins on Sunday

Date Posted: 2008-11-06

After months of posturing and talking, candidates seeking the Naha City mayor’s office officially declare their candidacy on Sunday, one week before the election.

The November 16th will be a match-up between incumbent mayor Takeshi Onaga and a 65-year-old challenger backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, the Communist Party and smaller socialist parties. Chosei Taira seeks to unseat Onaga, who’s running for a third term.

Money, or lack of it, promises to be the campaign theme in the week leading up to the election, as projections show Naha City will be ¥22.3 billion in the red during the next mayor’s term in office. The Trinity Reforms Program instituted by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi are now hitting communities fully, ending tax subsidies from the central government that kept local governments operating. Tax and financial reform are running head-on against plans for improving education and welfare programs, and expanding community services.

Creation of new towns, together with consolidation of existing cities, towns and villages, will require budget appropriations during the next mayoral term.

The 58-year-old Onaga has already slashed Naha City’s staff by 750, trimming the city budget by ¥2.8 billion. Onaga’s campaign platform calls for outsourcing city jobs to private companies, eliminating more jobs and cutting city payroll. His challenger is hammering the point that the present mayor’s fiscal policies aren’t enough, and change is needed.

“We need to know” what Onaga’s plans are, says Taira, “and go over them.” Taira is opposed to plans for new construction, saying “I don’t think it’s necessary to build a new city office building right now.” The mayor’s goals are to continue cutting personnel costs while selling city-owned land. The Naha City budget for 2008 is ¥114.3 billion, but revenues are far below the required amount.

The city’s proposal is to purchase idle, unused land within its boundaries, then resell it for profit. Naha City is looking for funds to pay for construction of a new baseball stadium under construction at Onoyama Park, and to build new city-owned apartment buildings for low income residents. Those projects will cost taxpayers ¥10.9 billion, and that results in about 10.5% increase in the city's budget.

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