May 20, 2013
Berlusconi offers big tax cuts in 'last great battle'
Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his "last great electoral and political battle" with a sweeping promise to cut taxes and the cost of government if his center-right wins elections this month.
In a passionate and much anticipated speech to supporters in Milan, the city where he built his fortune, he said only his center-right could lift Italy out of the dark fog of recession and re-establish trust between government and citizens.
His political opponents were quick to deride him. Caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti said Berlusconi "has never kept any of his promises" and one center-left parliamentarian called the speech "a laundry list of stupidities".
The centerpiece of Berlusconi's fiery speech was the unveiling of what he had billed beforehand as a "shock proposal" - a promise to reimburse Italian families for a much-hated tax on their primary residences.
That tax, known as IMU, was imposed last year by Monti's technocrat government to help with Italy's financial crisis, after it had been abolished in 2008 by Berlusconi.
The master communicator peppered his speech with repetitions of the words "tax" "taxpayer" and "tax man" along with references to "the anxiety of families".
He said he would scrap the tax at the first cabinet meeting and refund payments already made.
He also promised that a center-right government would eliminate a regional tax on businesses over the course of five years, would not increase VAT and would not impose a so-called "wealth tax" on higher earners.
"I have nothing to ask for myself," said Berlusconi, 76, one of Italy's richest men. "I want to fight one last great electoral and political battle."
He took simultaneous swipes at both Monti's centrist coalition and the center-left, saying: "I want to help Italy get out of this dark atmosphere that the technical tax men have put it, and in which the tax men of the left will leave it mired."