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Koike has pledged to make more day care services available to preschool children in the capital.
Politics

Decisive election win turns Tokyo gov into a national force

Child care, smoking measures likely to gain traction in Diet

| Japan

TOKYO -- With her camp sweeping the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in a landslide, Gov. Yuriko Koike now has the mandate to advance bold policies that could spill into national politics.

No child left behind

Stepping up efforts to shrink day care waitlists was a focus of Koike and her party's campaign. Even before Sunday's vote, she had asked the central government for regulatory easing to make new child care facilities easier to open.

Roughly 23,700 children across Japan are on waitlists for day care, with Tokyo accounting for nearly 40% of the total, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Koike's Tomin First no Kai party -- whose name pledges to put Tokyoites first -- calls for adding capacity for 70,000 more children at day care centers in the capital by the end of fiscal 2019 as well as increasing financial support for municipalities and private-sector providers.

Koike likely will find in the central government a willing partner on the issue, since it comports with the national goal of eliminating the backlog. And solving the problem is also expected to help address declining Japanese birthrates.

Thank you for not smoking

Tobacco policy is one area where the capital could influence the central government. Koike is pushing for a local ban on indoor smoking, including penalties for noncompliance, ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics here.

The central government's Health Ministry has called for prohibiting indoor smoking in principle, except at bars and other drinking establishments -- a step the Liberal Democratic Party opposes as too harsh. With the ruling party instead proposing smoking sections, the two sides could not form a consensus to submit legislation in the last ordinary Diet session.

But the LDP's crushing defeat in the Tokyo election may prompt the party to rethink its position and make some compromises with the Health Ministry, possibly submitting legislation in the next extraordinary Diet session.

"Health and welfare is an area that Tomin First no Kai is focusing on," an official at the ministry said. "National politics may have to give more attention to the party's policies in this field."

A taxing demand

That said, Tomin First may end up with little to show for its pledge to lobby the central government for lower effective corporate tax rates for financial firms.

Lower corporate taxes are key to realizing Koike's vision of turning Tokyo into an international financial hub. While she can reduce taxes levied by her own government, lowering national taxes under the special economic zone framework will prove no easy task.

"It would be difficult to draw a clear line as to which companies could enjoy preferential treatment," said a senior official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Tokyo as an international financial hub would be a "plus for the Japanese economy," Koike said in a television appearance Monday night, adding that "cooperation with the central government will be essential."

But the Ministry of Finance and the Internal Affairs Ministry are both wary of special treatment for Tokyo. Cutting corporate taxes in the capital alone would likely make it harder for higher-tax municipalities to lure businesses.

If Tokyo leads other local governments in cutting medical and education costs for its own people, disparities would emerge in the burdens shouldered by residents of different localities -- an idea that does not sit well with the central government.

And if local governments follow Tokyo by cutting taxes and easing other burdens on businesses and residents, their own fiscal health may deteriorate, putting additional strain on the central government down the road.

The central and Tokyo metropolitan governments have fought for years over such tax matters as divvying up corporate tax revenues. Unlike other prefectural-level governments, the metropolitan government does not receive local tax grants from the central government.

With the election victory giving Koike greater sway over the metropolitan assembly, Tokyo could start acting more autonomously. Central government agencies are concerned about this possibility, which would reduce the national government's control over the capital.

(Nikkei)

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