Debates on the consumption tax hike and fiscal rehabilitation are going nowhere.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited his plans to change the use of increased tax revenues from the higher consumption tax as his reason for dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election.

Raising the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in October 2019 would yield upward of 5 trillion yen ($45 billion) a year in extra tax revenues. Abe plans to reduce the amount earmarked for paying off debt and instead use it to support families with small children, among other measures.

“Because I am changing my plans for the use of the increased tax revenues from what was promised to the public, I must seek the judgment of the people,” Abe explained.

But over the last decade or so, it has been repeatedly pointed out that more financial support must be extended to the working-age generation, who are receiving fewer benefits than elderly citizens. Even opposition parties are not opposed to this argument.

The pros and cons of the proposed changes about the use of the increased tax revenues are not what Abe needs the public to vote on.

The real issue is something else.

In changing plans for the increased tax revenues, Abe simultaneously decided to shelve the goal of turning the primary balance into a surplus by fiscal 2020.

But if he is committed to fiscal rehabilitation as he insists, how will he make up for fiscal shortfalls resulting from changed plans, and when does he intend to turn the primary balance into a surplus?

And how will he fund the nation’s social security system, which he says will be remodeled to cover citizens of all age groups?

The public needs answers to these crucial questions. But Abe remains silent.

Given that Japan’s fiscal health is among the worst in the advanced world, a hike in the broadly levied consumption tax is inevitable to minimize the debt burden to be passed on to future generations.

This argument needs to be made in all honesty to win the public’s understanding for the higher tax.

Yet, the prime minister remains vague about what he thinks about the tax hike. Instead, he stresses the importance of more generous aid for people with children.

He even touched on the possibility of postponing the tax hike during a TV appearance shortly after he announced the Lower House dissolution. Given his track record of twice postponing the consumption tax hike, it appears doubtful that he is serious this time.

But opposition parties are no more articulate about how they intend to proceed with fiscal rehabilitation. Kibo no To (Hope) says no more than “correcting targets to render them more realistic.”

And while they are opposed to the consumption tax hike or are calling for a freeze, the opposition parties only offer funding alternatives that are of questionable viability or of an inadequate scale.

To make up for the absence of increased tax revenues, Hope says it is “considering taxing internal reserves of major corporations.” Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) proposes “reducing the number of Diet members and their salaries by 30 percent.”

As society’s aging and low birthrate continue, it is the duty of politicians to present a clear vision of the nation’s social security system and fiscal rehabilitation. Raising the consumption tax rate to 10 percent and turning the primary balance into a surplus are nothing more than a small step toward that goal.

The people’s elected representatives must draw a blueprint for the future of the taxation system, including the income, inheritance and corporate taxes. They must re-examine the national budget, eliminate wasteful spending and reallocate the revenues.

The ruling and opposition parties alike must look beyond the present generation to the future and give the people an overall picture of their burdens and benefits.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 18