Liu Hsiu-ying (劉秀英) could not believe her ears when she heard that the Kaohsiung Film Archive’s (高雄市電影館) annual budget was to be cut almost in half. Translated into reality, she quickly realized, it would mean cancelling one of its most important events: the Kaohsiung Film Festival (高雄電影節).
“For two, three weeks, we stood by at the [Greater Kaohsiung] city council in case we needed to answer councilor inquiries during the review sessions … Then we were suddenly informed that it was done. In one hour, the budgets were grouped together and slashed, and we were given no opportunity to voice our opinions. That we cannot accept,” Liu, who is director of the archive, told the Taipei Times.
In February, the Greater Kaohsiung city council slashed the city government’s income for this year by NT$5.7 billion (US$188 million), equivalent to 4.7 percent of the municipal government’s annual income. Compared to Taipei’s NT$1.4 billion in cuts, NT$350 million for Greater Taichung and Greater Tainan’s NT$14 million, the budget cut for Greater Kaohsiung is the most severe among Taiwan’s five special municipalities.
To break even, the city government is required to slash NT$5.7 billion from planned expenditures. However, instead of reviewing the budget of expenditures item by item, the city councilors bundled the budgets of a number of government institutions — tourism, labor and culture — together in the amount of NT$280 million, and bumped them all off together. Greater Kaohsiung’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, for example, had NT$60 million hacked off its budget, much of it affecting the Kaohsiung Film Archive, Kaohsiung Museum of History (高雄市立歷史博物館) and Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (高雄市立美術館).
Kuo Tien-kuei (郭添貴), the bureau’s deputy director, calls this year’s cuts unexpected, unprecedented and, the fact that they targeted specific programs, extremely unusual.
“If they had left the decision up to us to make financial adjustments, we certainly wouldn’t have slashed the budgets of such important institutions,” he says.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) councilors say the cuts are politically motivated. The pan-blue camp, consisting of the People First Party and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), hold a majority of seats in the council, and Hsu Kun-yuan (許崑源) of the KMT is said to have used his position as council speaker to push the cuts through. DPP city councilors walked out of the negotiations in protest.
The DPP’s council caucus claims the cuts are meant to dampen the popularity of Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), who is set to run for re-election in the year-end mayoral elections. But the KMT council caucus counters that, with the highest amount of city debt in the nation, the decision was made to focus on expenditures and thus stop the city government from taking out loans and selling public property, which would only affect its income.
Having focused on cultural and environmental issues during his work at the council for the past 12 years, City Councilor Wu Yi-cheng (吳益政) of the People First Party says that he is personally opposed to the way the budgets were cut. But he insists that the decision has less to do with partisan clashes than it does the city government’s financial situation.
“It is true that the common practice is to review the budget of expenditures item by item. But since the debt ratio has been high for the past two to three years, we spend a lot more time discussing the government’s sources of income, leaving little time to review the [planned] expenditures,” he says.