Two versions of a long-anticipated development plan for east coast counties made their way through the legislature yesterday, each promising to bring billions of New Taiwan dollars and thousands of jobs into the area.
Lawmakers went straight to work on the two bills, which opened the second legislative session, capping a long winter break.
The Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) version of the development bill has become an important part of the party's platform ahead of the by-election in Hualien County on Saturday.
Supporters at DPP candidate Hsiao Bi-khim's (蕭美琴) headquarters cheered as the bill proceeded directly to its second reading without debate yesterday morning.
Praising the bill, Hsiao said it would bring development projects, alleviate traffic congestion and increase business opportunities. She added that it would also help “change Hualien by helping the county equalize disparities with counties on the west coast.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) version is expected to proceed to its second reading on Friday after the legislature's Procedural Committee gave it the go ahead yesterday.
While there are a number of similarities between the two versions, there are also key differences that could undermine a proposal by KMT caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) to merge the versions next week.
The DPP version requires that the central government inject NT$50 billion (US$1.5 billion) into the area's ailing economy over the next decade. The bill also provides government subsidies that would cut rail and air fares for residents by up to 50 percent and expand the number of cargo goods exempt from taxation.
Meanwhile, the KMT version includes measures that will provide more government subsidies for the area without giving an exact figure. Speaking in the legislature, Lin said that the KMT version was more viable as many of the measures could be quickly enacted by the central government.
Both versions aim to ease land restrictions to encourage more development projects along the coast. They also each seek to increase education levels by removing school and textbook fees.
Lawmakers will have a full slate this session after the Procedural Committee approved a 63-item agenda. The agenda deals with key issues, including solving burgeoning water problems in the south, revisions to the Referendum Act (公投法) and investment guidelines for Chinese money managers.