May 24, 2013
Many lessons from BA teachers
The complex negotiations between the Buenos Aires provincial government and teacher unions involve rather more than another pay dispute or even the future of education — it is potentially decisive for Argentine federalism and 2015 election strategy alike (not to mention this October’s midterm voting). While some unions are claiming a salary increase of up to 60 percent (the nationwide demand is 30 percent, with the central government offering 17), Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli’s ministers state that the province cannot fund more than six percent and there seems no reason to disbelieve them — the Greater Buenos Aires Reparation Fund of 650 million pesos (introduced in 1996 to compensate the province for only receiving half the federal revenue-sharing funds it pays in and frozen at that sum since then) barely suffices to grant a one percent wage increase to a provincial payroll of over half a million. We have already seen a midyear bonus crisis in Buenos Aires province last year and with the national government hogging 76 percent of federal revenue-sharing funds, it can safely be assumed that these crises of an underfunded province will be chronic — will the reactions to these crises be spasmodic or will the basic problems of revenue-sharing be tackled at root?
And here politics rears its ugly head. Last year’s midyear bonus crisis — when Scioli was left to stew in his own juice for a while before being finally bailed out — fully revealed the ambivalence of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s attitude towards a potential 2015 presidential rival and this situation has not really changed in any way. On the one hand, all demolition jobs against Scioli (such as Vice-President Amado Boudou’s recent “cowardice” onslaught) bolster presidential supremacy but on the other hand, Victory Front votes from any source (even Scioli or the equally popular and equally suspect Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa) add critical mass towards CFK having any chance of a third term at all via a constitutional reform — a political dilemma yet to be resolved.
A deeper question is whether federal revenue-sharing reform should simply entail a fairer distribution of funds or whether the decentralization two decades ago of education, health and other services should be reconsidered — whether a province should have to pay teacher salaries in the first place if the central government is sitting on three-quarters of the federal revenue-sharing funds. But perhaps broaching these questions would be too much to expect of an election year.