Announcing the draft budget bill for 2024, Meloni’s government on Monday morning unveiled a plan including some 24 billion euros in support for low- and medium-income families and companies after months of high inflation.
There was concern in the financial markets at the lack of focus on getting Italy’s public finances in order, but Meloni insisted at a press conference on Monday it was a budget that was “very serious and realistic and which does not waste resources, but concentrates them on the main priorities”.
These priorities included renewing a reduction in salary tax contributions for those earning up to 35,000 euros a year, at a cost of around 10 billion euros.
Meloni said this would put an average of 100 euros a month more into the pockets of 14 million Italian employees.
As part of its wider plan of promised tax reform, the government merged the first two tax brackets, meaning those earning up to 28,000 euros a year will benefit from a rate of 23 percent, down from 25 percent.
Meloni also outlined plans to address issues keeping a large number of women in Italy out of work, with her administration under pressure to help boost Italy’s low birth rate.
She said women with at least two children will be exempted from social security contributions, and promised “free” nursery places from the second child.
“We want to dismantle the narrative that says having children is a disincentive to work,” she said. “We want to encourage those who bring children into the world and who want to work”.
Companies that hire mothers and young people will also pay reduced corporation tax, she said.
The measures, financed with 15.7 billion euros in additional debt and unspecified spending cuts, were intended to “defend the purchasing power of families”, the prime minister said.
Transport Minister Matteo Salvini appeared to state at the press conference that the budget included financing for his controversial plans to build a bridge over the Strait of Messina – a project that was abandoned by previous governments due to spiralling costs.
“I can announce that there is coverage for a fixed connection from Sicily, to Italy and to Europe,” Salvini said, though he didn’t specify where the funds would come from.
Commentators have warned of high public spending as the government seeks to fulfil electoral promises, particularly ahead of European Parliament elections next year.
Meloni drew praise for her cautious first budget, but commentators have warned of risks ahead as she and her partners seek to fulfil expensive promises, particularly ahead of European Parliament elections next year.
Nicola Nobile from Oxford Economics said Meloni’s government was showing its “true colours” with a “sharp shift in fiscal strategy”.
“The decision not to maintain a conservative fiscal approach will keep financial markets very nervous,” he said.
The draft budget bill will now be sent to Brussels for review before being voted on by Italy’s lower and upper houses of parliament, and it could face a long series of amendments before that process is complete.
Meloni last week urged lawmakers supporting her government to be “prudent” when presenting amendments to the bill.
Economy minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, one of the most moderate and pro-European members of the cabinet, has said it is not Brussels that worries him.
“What scares me is not the assessment of the EU but those of the markets who buy public debt,” he said in mid-September.
“Every morning I wake up and I have a problem — I have to sell (Italy’s) public debt and I have to convince people to have confidence.”
However, the increase in the deficit is mainly linked to ballooning costs of so-called superbonus scheme, a tax incentive for home renovations introduced in 2020, which Meloni said would cost Italy another 20 billion euros next year.
“The drift in Italy’s deficit … is largely due to the superbonus bill, which isn’t the responsibility of the current government,” said Gilles Moec, chief economist at Axa group.
However, he told AFP: “We do not detect any real desire on the part of Meloni’s government to control the deficit by renouncing certain electoral promises, such as the reduction in the tax burden.”
As a result of the government’s plans, Italy’s debt is forecast to fall only slightly, from 140.2 percent of GDP in 2023 to 139.6 percent in 2026.