Iceland’s Althingi parliament accepted new laws yesterday on increasing the tariffs on alcohol, tobacco, oil and automobiles by 12.5 percent as well as introducing a tax on driven kilometers and an excise tax on vehicles and fuel.
From Iceland’s Althingi parliament. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.
According to the budget bill, the aforementioned tariffs were going to increase by 11.5 percent next year, but now the increase is 12.5 percent and takes effect already today. The state treasury will as a consequence have an additional income of more than ISK 3.5 billion (USD 30 million, EUR 23 million) in 2009, Morgunbladid reports.
The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland (ÁTVR) said the price of tobacco will increase immediately, but it will take some time before the price of alcoholic beverages increases.
Minister of Finance Árni M. Mathiesen said at Althingi yesterday that the state tariffs on these products had depreciated with the development of the consumer price index and that the current increase is meant to counter that development.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir explained that the purpose with the new laws is to protect those who have the lowest wages. Child benefits and interest relief will remain unchanged, she said, and personal exemption will increase by ISK 2,000 (USD 17.25, EUR 12.99) next year, Fréttabladid reports.
However, the tariffs will also influence indexation and increase loans. “It is obvious that this will go straight into our loans. It is a very controversial path to take because it will also have an impact on the highly indebted state treasury, no less than households. I doubt that the state treasury will benefit from this in the end,” President of the Confederation of Labor (ASÍ) Gylfi Arnbjörnsson told Morgunbladid.
Runólfur Ólafsson, managing director of the Icelandic Automobile Association (FÍB), is equally critical of the new laws; expenses for average-sized cars will increase by ISK 20,000 (USD 172, EUR 130) per year because of them.
The price of gasoline and diesel oil will also increase considerably, by ISK 7.70 and 6.40 (USD 0.07 and 0.06, EUR 0.05 and 0.04) per liter respectively, and Ólafsson said it is not good at all that the state is going to take advantage of the recent decrease in the price of fuel in such a way.
Arnbjörnsson told Fréttabladid that the government only plans to increase benefits to senior citizens and the disabled by 9.6 percent, but not in consistency with indexation. The benefits of these groups are indexed and should thus increase every month, he said.
“They are planning to take four billions [ISK 4 billion = USD 34 million, EUR 26 million] from the poorest people. It is so incredibly unjust that we cannot agree to it,” Arnbjörnsson said.
Minister for Social Affairs Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir said Arnbjörnsson is wrong in his assumptions.
“We added two billions to the social security system compared to what was estimated in the budget bill. Next year pension benefits will be higher than ever compared to the lowest salaries of ASÍ,” Sigurdardóttir explained.
Click here to read about other recent measures taken by the government.