Colombia raises budget 2.5 pct for 2016 to $74 billion

BOGOTA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Colombia’s Congress has approved a 215.9 trillion peso ($74.2 billion) budget for 2016, an increase of 2.5 percent but including a cut to investment that the finance minister characterized as belt-tightening.

Under the plan, 43.8 trillion pesos are earmarked for investment in everything from road-building to social programs, 7 percent less than in 2015.

“Today Congress has approved a reduction in the nation’s general budget from 26 percent of gross domestic product to 25 percent of gross domestic product - we have tightened our belts,” said Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas.

Government operations will be funded with 124.4 trillion pesos.

Under the budget, education was earmarked to have the most resources of any sector - 31.07 trillion pesos - followed by defense at 30 trillion pesos.

Debt payments will account for 47.7 trillion pesos.

The investment budget includes a trillion pesos, which can be cut if the price for crude - Colombia’s largest export and source of foreign exchange - does not meet government expectations, avoiding cuts to other sectors, Cardenas said.

The Andean country had a budget of 210.6 trillion pesos in 2015.

The budget projects a national fiscal deficit of 3.6 percent of GDP, above the 3 percent projected for 2015.

A fall in oil income led the government to revise down its 2015 economic growth estimate last month to 3.3 percent from 3.6 percent. It also reduced its projection for next year - to 3.5 percent from 3.8 percent.

$1 = 2,910.7 Colombian pesos Reporting by Carlos Vargas and Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Ken Wills