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Italian PM announces package to fund public works, cut red tape
June 15, 2013 / 8:42 PM / 4 years ago

Italian PM announces package to fund public works, cut red tape

* Three billion euros to go toward public works

* Electricity bills to be lightened by 550 million euros

* Letta says more measures to come next week

* Repeats 2013 deficit will be under 3 percent of GDP

By Steve Scherer

ROME, June 15 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Saturday announced a package of measures to fund public works projects and cut red tape in a bid to pull the euro zone’s third-largest economy out of recession while respecting European budget limits.

Letta said the government would meet again on Wednesday and Friday to introduce further measures to simplify bureaucracy, loosen hiring rules and fight youth unemployment.

The decree law reduces some of the harshest penalties available to a much-hated tax collection agency, Equitalia, and streamlines the legal process for civil disputes.

“These are all measures that are needed to restart the country’s economy,” Letta said after a cabinet meeting that lasted more than five hours. They include a “significant impulse for many public works projects”, he said.

The decree frees up nearly 3 billion euros for public works projects this year, which will create 30,000 temporary construction jobs, the Public Works Ministry said in a statement.

The funds will be redirected from other projects that were not going to able to spend the money this year, Public Works Minister Maurizio Lupi said.

About 600 million euros will go to improvements in the national rail network, 300 million euros for maintaining tunnels and bridges, 300 million euros for improving school buildings, and 100 million euros for projects in small communities.

Electricity bills will be reduced by a total of 550 million euros in part by reducing the tax to fund renewable energy providers, Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato said, without saying how much this would cost producers.

DEFICIT

Letta, now in his second month as head of an uneasy right-left coalition government, is seeking to spur growth without increasing the budget deficit, already seen coming in just under the European Union’s 3 percent of GDP ceiling.

Earlier on Saturday, Letta assured European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that Italy would stick to its goal to keep the deficit at 2.9 percent of output this year.

“Italy wants to keep its promise,” Letta said during a joint news conference earlier on Saturday. “That means not racking up debt but making economic, social and fiscal policy choices while parsimoniously managing public resources.”

Data so far this year point to a sharply widening fiscal gap, fuelling concerns that the deficit could significantly exceed last year’s level of exactly 3 percent.

Letta, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party, is struggling to balance Italy’s commitments to the EU with coalition promises to cut taxes.

At the insistence of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre right, Letta has suspended a housing tax on primary residences and is also under pressure to block an increase in sales tax due to take effect next month.

But Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni said on Thursday scrapping the housing tax on first homes altogether and permanently blocking the sales tax increase would cost 8 billion euros ($10.6 billion) per year. (Editing by Andrew Roche)

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