Italian lawmakers’ high salaries stir anger

January 3, 2012

A government-mandated report has confirmed what many Italians long suspected: The $14,355 that Italian lawmakers make each month far outpaces what their peers in some of Europe’s largest economies get.

Italy’s bloated public sector and the privileges of its political elite have come under fire as the country battles its debt crisis with tax increases and labor market and pension system changes that are hurting ordinary Italians.

Prime Minister Mario Monti has vowed to trim the cost of governing as part of his austerity measures and has renounced his salary as prime minister and economy minister.

The report, published Tuesday, compares labor costs for lawmakers in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria. It also considers 34 public agencies in Italy to see whether there are analogous ones in the other countries.

International markets have punished Italy for failing to come up with a coherent strategy to deal with its $2.5 trillion debt mountain. That drove up the borrowing rates for the euro zone’s third-largest economy and effectively forced Silvio Berlusconi from office.

His replacement, Monti, has formed a government of technocrats to grapple with the problems and has undertaken a series of unpopular spending cuts and tax increases.

The findings, which the authors acknowledge are incomplete and provisional, show that a lawmaker in Italy’s lower Chamber of Deputies makes $14,724 (the equivalent of 11,283 euros) a month, followed by $11,096 for a Dutch lawmaker and down to $3,671 for one in Spain.

The Italian salary is fully taxed, but there are perks that are either more generous than in other countries or similarly generous: $4,571 a month tax free in cost-of-living allowances and free travel on trains, plains, boats and Italian highways. Only German lawmakers have a higher cost-of-living allowance, nearly $5,220, and Belgian lawmakers get none.

Adding to the strain on public coffers is the $4,815 in office expenses the government spends every month for each Italian deputy. Only France spends more, $8,368. France and Germany spend much more to pay the deputy’s assistants: a maximum of $11,925 in France and $19,199 in Germany. Italian deputies have to pay their assistants out of the office budget.

The findings sparked a new round of calls for an end to the privileges of Italy’s political class. Ordinary Italians have already been asked to make sacrifices, including with the sales tax, which has increased one percentage point, to 21 percent, and is set to rise to 23 percent in September.

— Bloomberg News

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