Gergely Karácsony. Mayor of Budapest. Chippy little panhandler.

Has it really come to this?

Even his best mates would have to admit that Karácsony is most definitely not up to the job that – by looking up at the electorate in the style of a frightened, nervous puppy – he managed to somehow secure for himself.

As mayor of one of Budapest’s districts he achieved little of note, and has, since being installed in the top office of the capital, managed to maintain this level of accomplishment.

Cut to the quick by central government’s assurance that local governments, too, would be involved in the fight against the situation occurring as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Karácsony has led the opposition-led local governments of Budapest in rebellion.

But the rebellion, it must be noted, has been a wholly one-dimensional affair. As soon as Karácsony entered his office, the first thing he did was to put his feet up. The second thing, which continues to be far more damaging for Budapest, is that he handed out jobs for the boys to whom he was indebted regarding victory. Thus we ended up with a frightened puppy of a mayor

Forrás: Unsplash

(albeit one who occasionally bares his teeth when cornered), and a whole shed-load of hangers-on. As a resident of Budapest you might feel entitled to know where your tax payments are going. Karácsony has four deputies and forty-one ‘advisors’. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to work that one out.

So, money is tight, and for good reason.

The government recognises that the pandemic has kicked the economy and the working population in the teeth, and has responded appropriately. Billions of forints have been poured into the economy to lessen the effects of the pandemic for those most affected. Central government introduced an economy protection plan. A credit debt moratorium is in effect offering financial assistance to 50,000 Hungarian SMEs, and which has resulted in HUF 3,000 billion remaining in total with those companies and families. Furlough grants are being provided. Central government has assumed one half of the wages of those employed in the sectors hit hardest by the economic results of the pandemic: hotels, restaurants, fitness centres, bathing facilities and entertainment venues. Additionally, the social contribution tax has been cancelled and the local trade tax has been halved. Remember that last one, for we’ll come back to it. The measures designed to assist the players of the Hungarian economy have worked – in December 2020 the same number of people had jobs in Hungary as before the epidemic. Jobs have been protected and investment grants have been provided to ensure that jobs can not only be retained, but also created. And, recognising those who need this help most, more than half the money that has been pumped into the economy has gone to micro- and small businesses.

But back to Karácsony. Back to that which I mentioned before. The halving of the local trade tax. The local trade tax, as its title suggests, is a tax which is payable by all businesses to the local government where the business is registered. And central government halved it in one fell swoop.

Now, that has led to various acts of rebellion. Desperately complaining that they don’t have enough money now that the government has granted free parking and halved the local trade tax, opposition-led local governments went straight out and paid a load of money (they really have no concept of irony) on a propaganda poster campaign all over the capital shrieking that buses, the metro, trams, rubbish collection, and a whole host of other services they are obliged to provide, will now have to be potentially cut, given the lack of funds that they are receiving.

They’ve made a choice to maintain their and their ‘advisors’ salaries and benefits, whilst cutting that which they are obliged to provide for the people who live in those districts.

And now for the cherry on the cake. It’s obviously not enough for local governments to be wasting money, hand over fist, by refusing to cut back on their own, extravagant expenses. It’s seemingly not enough for them to spend our money as though it’s going out of style on a city-wide propaganda campaign to attack the very central government from where their funding comes.

Now, they’ve reached a new low. The mayor of our capital, chippy little chiseller that he is, has sent out a begging letter. Yes, rather than tighten his belt, he’s recorded a lachrymose video to pluck at the heart strings of Budapest’s business owners. This is just sad. No, in fact, it’s not sad, it’s pathetic. It’s meant to be pitiable, but it won’t cause anyone to feel sorry for him. This is just embarrassing to watch. This is the sort of thing that makes you cringe, involuntarily.

What this man, the supposed leader of our capital city is imploring people to do is to voluntarily pay the whole amount of local trade tax that would be payable were it not for the government providing respite.

And the threats are there, in black and white, in the letter that was sent to every businessman and woman in the capital:

“These funds are required to ensure the uninterrupted operation of public transport, the continual provision of drinking water, so that rubbish and sewage will continue to be removed, and so that snow can be cleared from the streets.”

What would be outrageous for anyone with any self-esteem, comes naturally to those who now run Budapest.

In his letter, the panhandling potentate of the capital states that 60% of the funds required for public services comes from the local trade tax. According to the main scrounger himself, from the HUF 165.5 billion in 2019, the sum received in 2020 is HUF 32 billion less.

Rather than tighten his own belt, rather than cut back on the army of ‘advisors’ and deputies that we pay for in taxes, he’s come on the scrounge, grubby hand outstretched as he looks up at us imploringly.

Unfortunately, the little chiseller’s act is blown out of the water, once again, by the fact that he’s apparently forgotten that the government knows how much money is on the account.

“On December 31 2020, there was 122 billion in total on the Metropolitan Municipality’s account. HUF 74.9 billion in government securities, HUF 36.7 billion cash in hand, and HUF 10.4 billion in the Treasury.” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in parliament 15 February 2021.

The correct answer to the plea in Karácsony’s letter:

“Please consider paying the full amount rather than the half you’ve been enabled to”,

is the following: Dear puppy-eyes, please tighten your own belt, rid the municipality of your army of leeches and use the immense funds at your disposal before you crawl back here, begging.

Chippy little chiseller.