SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s frontrunning center-right presidential candidate, Sebastian Pinera, on Monday unveiled a $14 billion, four-year spending plan focused on proposed reforms to the country’s tax and pension systems and new investments in infrastructure and hospitals.
The former president, who governed from 2010 to 2014, said he would pay for his proposals by cutting “unnecessary” government spending and simplifying the tax code to encourage investment and boost growth and the country’s coffers.
Recent opinion polls show Pinera, 67, with a wide lead over his seven rivals in the Nov. 19 first-round election. Pinera would also beat his two closest contenders, leftists Alejandro Guillier and Beatriz Sanchez, in a runoff if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, according to pollster CEP last week.
Guillier, the frontrunner on the left, has yet to put a pricetag on his proposals, which track the policies of outgoing center-left President Michelle Bachelet. Sanchez has proposed a $13.4 billion plan of deeper social and economic reforms, paid for in part by a tax on the “super-rich.”
The 67-year-old Pinera, a billionaire who has campaigned on a program of fiscal austerity, is benefiting from disenchantment with Bachelet, whose program of progressive reforms coincided with a downturn in the price of copper, which can account for as much as 15 percent of gross domestic product in Chile, the world’s top producer.
“Half of the financing for my program will come from reallocations drawn from ineffective government programs ... and a reduction of unnecessary spending in the public sector,” Pinera said in a 124-page paper detailing his proposals.
Pinera’s plan to reform the pension system would cost about $3 billion and include new subsidies to raise pensions for women and the middle class, as well as incentives to encourage workers to retire later, Pinera said in the document.
The current retirement system, introduced in the 1980s during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, was historically seen as a model by many economists, but it has been criticized in recent years on a number of fronts, including what many see as insufficient payouts.
Pinera, a businessman-turned-politician, has also called for a $2.7 billion overhaul of Bachelet’s tax reform, to provide “more certainty and incentives for saving and investment,” as well as $3 billion of investment in hospitals and infrastructure.
Reporting by Antonio De la Jara and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Sandra Maler