Economist and university professor, Ana Cárcaba (Soto de Ribera, 49 years old) jumped two years ago from the academic world to politics. He headed the Ministry of Finance of the Principality of Asturias after receiving a call from the president of the community, Adrián Barbón (PSOE). “He told me that he was interested in having an independent director, with a technical profile,” he says in a videoconference interview from his office. He assures that he has not once regretted having accepted the position. He defends a reform of the autonomous financing system that takes into account “the real cost of providing public services”, denies that Asturias is “a fiscal hell” and believes that “more pedagogy is needed” about the tax system. “If we want quality public services it is necessary to pay taxes,” ditch.
Question. What are the keys to the Asturias budget for 2021?
Answer. It is intended to cope with the pandemic. We designed a direct aid fund of 100 million, which we have already set up, in addition to other aid. We greatly increased the effort we were already dedicating to essential public services. We also think about the second half of the exercise. Fortunately, we are seeing that resources must be channeled not only to face the pandemic, but also for recovery.
P. Is direct government aid late?
R. Anyone who knows the administrative process knows that it takes time. There is a whole series of procedures that guarantee that public resources are used properly. That is why I would never say they are late. For the communities it will be a challenge, but we are prepared. In Asturias we have been managing direct aid since 2020. We have some fringes left, but the call will come out in a very short time.
P. Will the money reach companies before the end of summer?
P. Do you think that the regional financing system guarantees equity?
R. I think we all agree that reform is necessary. Also in increasing the resources allocated to the financing model. Furthermore, it must be the result of consensus. It is essential that we put the confrontation aside. From Asturias we start from a position agreed with the entire parliamentary arch, except Vox, because we believe that we do not have to defend party interests. We need a long-term, strategic vision. We defend, and there are other territories that propose it, that spending needs are taken into account and not the tax capacity of the territories. What does it mean? Take into account the real cost of providing services, consider factors and variables that affect their provision.
R. We are the community with the oldest population. This implies a very important cost increase in social and health terms. We have factors such as the dispersion of the population, the orography. We want it to be taken into account that there is a fixed cost for services, regardless of the population. Logically the volume of population influences, we have never denied it. I believe that all positions are correct and defensible. That is why I insist on the search for that consensus.
P. Are you confident that the reform will come soon?
R. The statements of the ministry make us think that this process will soon open. A committee of experts has been created, linked to the reform of the tax system. I see it as a positive thing. It can be useful because one of the premises is that the system be endowed with more resources.
P. In 2022 the negative settlements of the system will arrive.
R. I imagine that the central administration will put forward a proposal. It is clear that we cannot allow the funding of communities to be hit in a given fiscal year by such a significant reduction in resources. We are clear about it and I think the State does too. Recovery is not going to happen in just one exercise. That in 2022 we can already be affected by this reduction in resources is something that the regional accounts will not be able to absorb.
P. Do you support tax harmonization?
R. It already exists in taxes such as personal income tax, and has not generated controversy. Those that we traditionally call assigned, as successions, do not have it because they were the ones that were assigned in the first place. His management was yielded, but little by little other regulatory powers were yielded and some territories took the opportunity to make decisions that have led to distorting the tax system. We propose that the State create a minimum common structure. What do we get out of it? Do not distort the tax system, do not withdraw resources from the global system, respect the fundamental principle, which appears in the Constitution, of equality of citizens as taxpayers and recipients of services, regardless of the territory in which they live. We ensure that the system maintains its solidarity character, the overall vision.
P. Isabel Díaz-Ayuso said that before harmonization it is necessary to lower taxes on Asturian businessmen.
R. The communities do not have regulatory competence in taxes that affect economic activity. I don’t like confrontation. I simply believe that we propose different models. We say that our fiscal model has to be inspired by equality and progressiveness, as stated in the Constitution. We understand that the decisions that are being taken in some territories do not conform to this, for example the principle of progressivity, which says that those citizens who have more resources should contribute more to sustaining public services. If those more progressive taxes cease to be applied, we go against that principle, inequality between citizens living in different territories increases. Recently an OECD report came out that spoke of the existence of tax havens within the same territory. I think we have to correct that situation.
P. Asturias has the highest inheritance tax in Spain.
R. It is one of the greatest instruments at our disposal to reduce inequalities. I insist on something that we always forget: it is the people who pay the taxes, not the families. This tax in Asturias is paid by 1% of the direct line heirs, who are those who receive high inheritances. Precisely for the sake of progressiveness, those who receive a high inheritance must contribute with their taxes to the maintenance of public services. Inheritance taxes exist in most OECD countries. We are not talking about something exclusive that we defend as if we were the last Gallic village. And more and more voices are raised in favor of this tax, which reduces inequality.
P. What would you answer to those who say that Asturias is a fiscal hell?
R. Absolutely. The Figures are there: the tax burden on own and own and assigned taxes is below the national average as a percentage of GDP. I come from the academic world and it is very difficult for me to make a claim that does not have support behind data and study.
P. Is there a lot of noise about taxation?
R. Pedagogy is needed. And that those of us who have the capacity to convey a message to public opinion do so responsibly. If we want quality public services, it is necessary to pay taxes. I’m not saying you have to pay more. If we demonize taxes, we normalize the underground economy, fraud, we are doing terrible damage to health, education, care for our elders. And we cannot lose the perspective that we are a country that requires solidarity with each other. We cannot take advantage of certain circumstances, such as the capital, to carry out an unsupportive tax policy.
P. Bordering communities have lowered the inheritance tax. Does it affect them?
R. I think it is too early to see the effects. I insist that more than territories they are different tax models. That is why I think it is so important that this harmonization be established.
P. What bets do you have for European funds?
R. It is a very important opportunity. I am going to give a figure, which is open: we have almost 200 private projects, in addition to the public ones, which represent an investment of 6,500 million. They are fundamentally projects related to renewables: hydrogen, offshore wind generation, energy storage. Also to the agri-food sector, sustainable tourism, circular economy and digitization. But we want to look further. For those projects that fit into our strategy and cannot be financed from the recovery fund, we will have to seek financing in the future. The bet has to be clear: transform our region.
P. Are the execution deadlines given by Brussels sufficient?
R. Europe wants the recovery to be as fast as possible. It is a very important challenge, but we have experience in managing cohesion funds, with very high execution rates. I think we are ready.