May 23, 2013
Province by province
The crunch in cash-strapped Buenos Aires province, which is struggling to pay the midyear bonus to civil servants, inevitably leads to questions about how the nation’s other provinces will deal with fears of an economic slowdown in the middle, to borrow a phrase from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of a ‘crumbling world.‘ Córdoba, ruled by the non-Kirchnerite Peronist Governor José Manuel de la Sota, and Santa Fe, ruled by Antonio Bonfatti of the Socialist-headed coalition FAP, are both demanding funds they claim to be owed by the national government. Those demands could grow louder now. Also struggling to make ends meet are the Kirchnerite governors of Chaco, Entre Ríos and Mendoza.
The impression is that the sudden belt-tightening performed by Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli, and his cold war with the President over the still distant presidential race of 2015, could be replicated by other governors if they are forced to negotiate with the national government. De la Sota, a centrist who has never fully accepted Kirchnerism and has not been accepted by it, has held many meetings with Scioli and is a potential ally of the Buenos Aires governor in the Peronist party power struggle. Bonfatti is clearly in the opposition and the hard economic times could strain his ties with Fernández de Kirchner even further. Yet the novelty is that even loyalists, like Mendoza Governor Francisco Pérez, are finding it tough to secure aid from the national government to pay public administration salaries until the end of what is turning out to be a difficult year. The President has a right to demand streamlining from the provinces and even some flair in running them, regardless of party hues, but she should not fall into the temptation of discriminating the governors due to their political positions. The burden, and the political cost, of cuts should also not fall squarely on the shoulders of the governors, who will pay the price of losing popularity in their territory if the difficulties to pay salaries continue.
The current economic situation will rapidly discriminate between good and bad administrators, and not between those who side and don’t side with the President politically. Ultimately, the best way for the governors to buy themselves full independence is to show that they can keep the books (something that is being achieved by provinces like Salta, San Juan, San Luis and Santiago del Estero).