A recurring message of the government parties during the local election campaign: if an opposition mayoral candidate wins, the municipality may lose significant government funds. Many members of government parties have referred to this, but research on the subject has produced somewhat contradictory results.
At the time of the regime change, a self-government system based on freely available revenues was created. Over the last thirty years of Hungarian self-governance, however, the dependence on the central government has been steadily increasing. With the increase of municipal tasks, the decrease of personal and disposable revenues, and more and more targeted central subsidies until 2010, hidden centralization can be observed in the local government system.
After 2010, however, a direct centralization has started with the reduction of municipal tasks and, consequently, financial resources. The main reason for this move at that time was that a very large number of municipalities were heavily indebted. This strong centralization has resulted in tight control of local governments, severely cutting back on local autonomy, both in terms of tasks and local investment. At the same time, the system gives some municipalities better opportunities due to central decisions.
What the comments from politicians imply
During the campaign, pro-government politicians have often implied that voting for their candidates is the right choice.
“I would primarily help those communities where pro-government mayoral candidates have won,” Lajos Kósa, campaign chief of ruling Fidesz said in a recent interview.
Kósa had also stated last year during the mid-term mayoral election in Hódmezővásárhely, if independent candidate Péter Márky-Zay was elected, then government funds would not arrive in the city the same way as before.
Last month Minister of the PM’s Office Gergely Gulyás said, if István Tarlós won’t become the mayor of Budapest, the government’s agreement with the capital would no longer be valid.
Meanwhile, PM Viktor Orbán, who did a short rally before the local elections visiting only two cities, said in Miskolc (Northern Hungary) that “Miskolc should try and stay on the winning side.” Orbán suggested that local residents should “fight for the city” rather than against the government, and vote for a mayor willing to “cooperate with the government in the city’s interest.” Should a candidate of the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) win the mayoral post, they will “necessarily be an adversary to the government,” Orbán insisted, arguing that DK’s logic was to “fight a large political battle rather than focus on local affairs, developments, or promoting the interests of locals.”
Visiting Gödöllő, led by independent conservative György Gémesi for almost 30 years, PM Orbán met with the Fidesz-backed candidate, Csaba Kolozs, who is running against Gémesi. Orbán said that “Gödöllő is so close to Budapest but we have only been fumbling with it” and “it’s time to finally do something with the city,” adding that “I can give money and developments but we cannot do anything in a hostile environment.”
On the contrary, Fidesz-supported Budapest mayor István Tarlós recently said that there is no preference for cities with Fidesz or Fidesz-supported mayors but being able to cooperate with the government instead of opposing it is what matters.
A few days before the local elections, PMO Head Gergely Gulyás called recent reports that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had said cities would only receive central government funding if Fidesz mayors were in charge after the local elections, a “misreading” of Orbán’s statements. “It is not on the part of the government that partnership is lacking. Rather, it is political forces rising up against us, those who clearly want to fight the government,” he said.
What the analysts say
In his recent article, economist Tamás Vasvári points out that the maneuverability of local governments has decreased significantly, and in parallel, the role of the central government in public affairs has increased. On the one hand, while in the past half of the public investment was conducted by local governments, it was less than 25% in 2018. Consequently, many times not those investments are carried out that are needed locally, but those for which the settlement gets money. Also, in order to maximize funding sources, investments that are unnecessary are the ones often carried out.
In a recent analysis, economic news site G7 found that while Fidesz-led settlements do receive more development aid than those run by opposition or independent mayors, Fidesz-led municipalities do not seem to be making more money than the opposition or independent-led ones, since the latter are urged to gain funds from other sources. Also, if we look at the data from the perspective of per capita expenditure, only larger cities with Fidesz mayors are favored by the government, the article points out.
Examining with a correlation test whether the level of development, demographic conditions, size of the municipalities or the mayor’s party affiliation is decisive for a settlement’s financial means (seeing its expenditure per capita), they found the mayor’s party affiliation has no significant effect.
Featured photo by Péter Komka/MTI