Wasteful use of new tax revenues for forest resources would be inexcusable

The Yomiuri ShimbunForests, which account for two-thirds of national land, are property owned jointly by the people. Preservation of forests will prevent disasters caused by landslides and also lead to the cultivation of water sources.

Now that a new tax is to be introduced, it is necessary to eradicate the wasteful use of money and comprehensively promote a variety of measures for rejuvenating the forestry industry.

The government will submit to the ongoing ordinary Diet session a bill concerning forestry management and administration, designed to develop forestry as a growth industry, in tandem with pursuing appropriate preservation of forest resources.

Municipal governments will aggregate unutilized private forests and then outsource their management to forest business operators as broader tracts of land. Meanwhile, unprofitable private forests will be managed at a minimal level, including thinning, by local municipalities via public funds. The government aims at having the new law go into force in fiscal 2019.

To effectively conduct the cycle of timber-felling, selling and afforesting, there must be a certain scale of business operations.

The government’s course of action is also deemed reasonable regarding the management of private forests with public funds, given the possibility of devastated mountain forests causing disasters.

The lack of capabilities among local municipalities, which are supposed to be at the core of the new system, is worrisome. In as many as 40 percent of the cities, towns and villages located in mountainous areas, there is either one person solely in charge of forestry, or the position is empty. An association of public services that would cover several local communities by joining hands with neighboring municipalities would be an option.

Avoid double taxation

As a revenue source for the new system, the government intends to formulate a policy of newly establishing a “forest environment tax.”

The government will effectively change the special tax for post-quake reconstruction — which will come to an end in fiscal 2023 — into the new tax, and add ¥1,000 per person a year to an individual residential tax, starting in fiscal 2024. Tax revenues of ¥62 billion a year are expected from this move.

As the central government will allocate funds to local governments in accordance with the forest areas, there may be cases in which a local government receives several tens of millions of yen every year. Situations must be avoided in which a local government is driven to use up the year’s budget funds, and diverts money to nonessential and nonurgent uses.

Local governments must execute budgets by fully taking into account the purpose of the new system, and at the same time disclose in detail how the funds are used.

Thirty-seven prefectural governments have already individually imposed their local taxes related to forests. Coordination is needed so that there is no excessive tax collection due to double taxation, as a result of the introduction of the new tax.

In the use of the new tax, such viewpoints as preserving forests and maintaining mountain villages are also important.

Domestic forestry, put under pressure by cheap imported wood, has seen the value of its lumber output fall to only about 20 percent of what it logged in 1980.

In light of the devastation of mountainous areas due to overcutting of forests to meet postwar reconstruction demand, the forestry administration gave the highest priority to afforestation, and therefore lacked a long-term outlook for the forestry industry.

There are few forestry roads for work. The number of people engaged in the forestry industry has declined, and the fostering of successors has lagged behind, making conspicuous the aging of the working population in the forestry industry. These structural problems are left untouched.

Cultivating demand for timber is also important. Biomass power generation, in which small pieces of wood are burned to generate electricity, can be promising. Through cooperation between the public and private sectors, the utilization of wood should be promoted, for instance, by propagating the use of glued laminated wood, which is suited for buildings with its high heat insulation properties and quake resistance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 12, 2018)Speech


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