Local authorities shall be entitled, within national economic policy, to adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers.
According to Article 9, paragraph 1 of the Charter, local authorities should have adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers. Financial autonomy is an essential component of the principle of local self-government and an important condition for the exercise of a wide range of responsibilities in the field of local public affairs. These elements are cumulative and not alternative, which means that all the conditions laid down in Article 9, paragraph 1 of the Charter are mandatory. Another basic principle, established in Article 9, paragraph 2, requires that local authorities should have sufficient financial resources in proportion to the responsibilities assigned to them by law.
In Poland, local authorities manage a substantial part of financial resources, which account for up to 31.3% of public expenditures. Their revenues correspond to 13% of the GDP (4.1% of the tax revenues, 7.5% of grants and subsidies; 1.3% of other revenues). The true question, however, is whether they are allowed to dispose freely of those resources and whether these are proportional to the level of local responsibilities.
The issue was already raised during the 2014 monitoring visit. Recommendation 373 (2015), which reiterated the previous Recommendation 120 (2002), invited Polish authorities to assist the devolution of powers with the transfer of adequate financial resources and to find a new compromise for concomitant financing.
It should also be mentioned that according to the OECD, in 2016 only 35.7% of total public investment was carried out by subnational governments in Poland compared to an OECD average of 56.9%. The share of public investment carried out by subnational governments in Poland is among the lowest among OECD countries.
Notwithstanding the fact that Poland has experienced in the last few years a remarkable economic growth, the issue concerning the availability of adequate financial resources, that are commensurate with the responsibilities of local authorities, remains unchanged. During the visit, the delegation heard complaints raised by the Association of Polish Cities and by many local authorities’ representatives.
The Ministry of Finance pointed out that the financial resources of local authorities experienced a steady growth over the last years, including their own income.
The local authorities’ representatives raised three main complaints. Firstly, the resources are considered to be insufficient. Since the amendments to the Law on the Personal Income Tax of 2005-2006, the financial soundness of municipalities have been weakened without any compensation and without any decrease in the scope of local tasks. Secondly, the State is establishing higher standards for local services without transferring extra resources, thereby asking local authorities to make up for the difference in expenditures. Thirdly, the State is transferring new competences to local authorities, without adequate financial resources.
The powiat seems to be the weakest level of government. The powiaty’ representatives pointed out the financial difficulties that they are experiencing, which, in turn, generate an excessive debt. The improvement in standards in social assistance, retirement homes, orphanages, centres for troubled youth, safe houses for disadvantages people generate additional expenses that are not covered by the State through transfers of resources and must therefore be payed for with their own resources.
Education is a problem for both municipalities and powiaty. The negotiation on teachers’ salaries is carried out at national level, but the salaries must be payed by the local authorities. Subsidies for education increased by 1%, compared to a 5% of increase in education expenditures.
During the consultation procedure, the government expressed totally opposite views and underlined that the local self-government incomes had been growing, in particular as a result of the recently adopted legislation and recovery actions. The government presented the detailed data from the Ministry of Finance on the financial situation of self-governments in the period 2014-2017 to further underline a generally positive financial standing of local self-government, despite a small deficit in 2017. It also argued that the financial resources available to subnational government are adequate since, according to the data it presented, the level of asset-related expenditure of local self-government units is high and the high number of self-governments has operational surplus in the period of 2014-2017. The government also argued that the subsidies for education have always constituted one of the sources of financing the education and that there were no significant changes from 2014 to 2016 in the ratio between the local government current expenditures on education and the state budget current transfers (educational part of general subsidy and special grants for education tasks).
Notwithstanding the growth in financial resources of local authorities pointed out by the government, the rapporteurs are especially concerned by the fact that the cost of the improvement in the quality of services and salaries - that is part of a policy carried out at national level - is de facto charged to local authorities. In addition, data elaborated by independent academic research teams suggests that the growth in 2016-2017 is misleading, in the sense that it is to a huge extent a result of the new social protection programme (so called 500+ programme) which is implemented by local governments, acting as agent of central government, whereas there was a slight decrease of powiat revenues and sharp drop of regional revenues.
Therefore, the rapporteurs consider that the requirements of Article 9, paragraphs 1 and 2, are only partially respected in Poland.