Political tensions have surged back to the fore in Argentina after the Chamber of Deputies approved by a 129-118 vote a sharp cut in this city’s federal revenue-sharing funding on Tuesday.
The decision came after a marathon 20-hour session and intense debate.
Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who has already lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, denounced the bill as a “political attack … to bring him to his knees,” also accusing the government of emasculating the same Metropolitan Police which it had blamed for the riots surrounding Diego Maradona’s wake last week.
The bill required amendments in order to gain the crucial support of half a dozen deputies beyond the Frente de Todos caucus, especially the four Córdoba Peronists (whose presence was essential for quorum) – the cuts were redefined as coming off the police budget rather than federal revenue-sharing in order to avoid a precedent for provinces, but for City Hall the result was the same. The bill had set the police budget at an annual 24.5 billion pesos but the amendments now leave the sum to be defined by two months of negotiations between the national and City governments. The amendments oblige the bill to be returned to the Senate whose solid Frente de Todos majority guarantees approval.
In 2016 the Mauricio Macri administration had upped the City’s federal revenue-sharing slice from 1.4 to 3.75 percent in order to finance the transfer of the Federal Police into municipal hands. It was clipped down to 3.5 percent two years later.
The former president also weighed into the debate, slamming the decision as "running over institutions, the rights of Argentines and federalism" in a post on Twitter.
Declaring that the decision to "rob" the City budget put "the safety, health and wellbeing of millions of people at risk," Macri said the move was being made for "partisan political reasons," slamming the "verbal tricks" employed "to hide the true intention of besieging the opposition."
Tuesday’s marathon session was due to opposition filibustering in the hope that a debate beginning on the last day of November would have to be discontinued if it stretched into December because it would then have crossed the line between ordinary and extraordinary sessions. But after midnight the deputies voted 129-102 to continue on the grounds that a presidential decree had already authorised the extension of the parliamentary year.
Closing the debate, Frente de Todos caucus leader Máximo Kirchner forcefully defended the bill, accusing Macri of “giving most to the city which had the most” while sniping: “Every time a City Mayor governed us, the country ended up in debt and a state of collapse” (a reference to the late Fernando de la Rúa, as well as Macri).
Budget Committee chairman Carlos Heller insisted that the bill was the correction of a previous “excess,” giving the City some 86 billion pesos for a police force whose true cost was 24.5 billion, rather than a bid to punish the city which he himself represents.
PRO caucus chairman Cristian Ritondo interpreted the bill as an “attack” on Rodríguez Larreta’s presidential candidacy and “petty ingratitude” for City Hall’s solid support of the national government during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gustavo Menna (Radical-Chubut) charged that the bill was unconstitutional since it violated federalism with a unilateral and “autocratic” redefinition of federal revenue-sharing at purely national level.