| President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday rejected a bill on designating taxis as public transportation and thus making them eligible for government subsidies. This was his first veto of a parliament-approved bill since taking office in 2008 and the country`s 72nd since the Constitution was adopted in 1948. Both the ruling and opposition parties blasted the move, saying it disrespected the National Assembly. Cab drivers also threatened to go on strike.
In a Cabinet meeting Monday, the land, transport and maritime affairs minister and other related officials said giving taxis preferential treatment would be unfair since chartered buses and ferries are excluded from the public transportation category. Buses and subways are operated with specific routes and timetables, they said, and to include taxis in the category would be difficult. In opposing the taxi law, Seoul said tax revenues of the government and municipalities would benefit just the owners of taxi companies, not the drivers. The Governors Association of Korea, a group of the heads of municipal and provincial governments, also urged the nullification since they would take on most of the fiscal burden if the bill was passed.
The National Assembly approved the bill Jan. 2 with support from 222 members of both the ruling and opposition parties, and could override the president`s veto if a two-thirds majority, or 151 lawmakers, vote to do so. Park Ki-choon, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic United Party, said, "The veto is tantamount to breaking social consensus and will merely spark discord," adding that his party will push for another vote on the bill.
The parties, however, failed to take appropriate procedures, including a public hearing on a bill that could incur a fiscal burden of more than 1 trillion won (94.2 U.S. billion dollars). They also failed to listen to the opinions of municipal and provincial governments who would take on most of the burden if the bill is passed. Critics had denounced the bill as a populist measure aimed at winning the votes of 300,000 taxi drivers nationwide ahead of last month`s presidential election.
Reeling from criticism that it neglected the situation, the central government pledged to set up a "taxi support law" instead. The proposed taxi law would benefit taxi company owners by preserving deficits and guaranteeing transfer discounts. The taxi support law would include compensation for reduced bus runs, setup of a welfare fund to improve working conditions of cab drivers, and improvement of taxi services by banning drivers from refusing to take on passengers. The government should gather opinions from taxi industry figures, experts and the people and submit a more persuasive taxi support bill to parliament. The National Assembly must also devise measures that truly benefit the taxi sector instead of being obsessed with another vote on the bill.