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11 noviembre 2022

María Navarro: “The important thing is that companies in this country and abroad know that in this city there is a pioneering tax plan that is going to give them tax rebates”

A lawyer by profession, María Navarro is in charge of the Presidency, Finance and Interior Department of the Zaragoza City Council and in this interview she explains some of the most relevant projects she has carried out in the first three years of this legislature. In this interview she explains some of the most relevant projects she has carried out in the first three years of her term of office. Navarro especially delves into the Fiscal Plan for Investment Attraction, pioneer in Spain, which aims to attract companies to Zaragoza.

We wanted to start by asking about the Fiscal Plan to Attract Investments. Could you tell us in detail what this pioneer plan consists of?

One of our government objectives was to bring companies to Zaragoza and we thought that we could do it with the fiscal ordinances, an instrument that had never been used in this city council to be able to lower taxes. For us they are not only a tax collection instrument, but we have used them as a tax incentive to attract companies and generate employment.

We wanted to give bonuses in three taxes: Real Estate Tax (IBI), Tax on Economic Activities or the Tax on Constructions, Installations and Works (ICIO) to any company that generates more than 10 workers and comes to the city of Zaragoza. That is to say, a company that comes to the city of Zaragoza, sets up here and generates more than 10 workers will have up to 95% discounts in the ICIO, in the IBI during the 5 years following the construction and in the Economic Activities Tax during the 5 years following the beginning of the activity.

This means, for example, that a company with more than 200 workers that is installed with an investment of more than 4 million euros in our city, without this tax plan would have to pay about 350,000 euros and with tax plan will pay 95% less.

These are tax bonuses that do not exist today in any other large city, in a regulated manner. It is true that the law allows you to go case by case depending on the speciality of the project, but we only have a homogeneous regulation by number of workers and job creation in Zaragoza.

Therefore, Zaragoza is fiscally very attractive for companies to come and thus we encourage taxation, generate employment and generate investment.

I believe that the Partido Popular and Ciudadanos have understood that taxation is a very powerful tool to attract investment to the city and we have seen how in recent times large companies have come or will come, such as the Quirón hospital, Costco in Plaza or Becton Dickinson.

Therefore, I believe that Zaragoza has to be a powerful city and all the companies have to know that the city council is going to give them a tax rebate so that they can come.

This is a recent plan, how is it expected to work in the long term?

All the new things that are done in any institution, in any government, have to be made known. The important thing is that the companies in this country and abroad know that in this city there is a pioneering tax plan.

I believe that it is going to achieve the objective we were looking for: that the companies come because it supposes a very important saving. You lower taxes at the beginning but then the repercussion for the city of Zaragoza is much greater. Why? Because if we manage to bring companies, we generate employment, we generate investment, we generate that these people can come to Zaragoza, we generate housing, we generate an ecosystem that in the future will benefit much more.

It is an attraction plan and I believe that if we are able to keep up the pace of employment generation and attraction of companies, it will be a successful plan. But it is true that we are just starting to walk, that we put it into action in the first tax ordinances and now our obligation is to make it known so that all the companies that want to come here know that in this city they already have a regulation per se and they can already make their calculations in the business plans to know the fiscal matter in Zaragoza.

What we are looking for is to be the most attractive for the greatest number of companies to come.

How do the tax cuts of this legislature benefit ordinary citizens?

It is true that we have had a very complicated legislature as all the institutions. We are the 5th city in Spain, we have had a pandemic, a very complicated inherited economic situation, but three years later in the economic area we can already count results and facts.

I like to tell the truth: we arrived with a very indebted city council, with 830 million of municipal debt, with a budget of 750 -which we found extended-; we found ourselves with a hole -said by the intervention, not by any politician- of about 100 million Euros pending to be paid, as well as under-budgeting. A very complicated situation.

What have we done during these three years? We have managed to absorb almost the 100 million euros of the hole we found pending payment, we have reduced the debt by 170 million euros (we have gone from 830 to 660 million euros) and we have managed to lower taxes, which was one of the objectives we had in the Treasury area.

How have we done it? We committed ourselves to lower taxes for large families and we did it as soon as we arrived, the first year. This government made the biggest bonus for large families in the city, which affected almost 4000 families, I think it was a successful bonus. I believe that it was a successful bonus. I believe that all the large families that own a house asked for it. We made green ordinances the second year, which are environmental ordinances: now we give IBI bonuses to all the companies, houses, industries that install solar panels or solar roofs.

We have also modified the general rate of IBI and this is very important. Of the big cities in Spain, we are the one with the lowest general rate of IBI. More than Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Malaga. This means that the IBI rate paid by the generality of the citizens is the lowest rate. We could still lower it to the legal minimum, which is what the mayor committed himself to and we hope to be able to do it in the next fiscal ordinances, we are already working on it.

Surely we will have made mistakes and things could be done better but, humbly, with a very complex situation as we have lived in a national context, this council has complied with the citizens. Therefore, we are satisfied and we still have a year to go, there is still a lot of work to do, to manage. With the data, anyone can assess that we have fulfilled the citizens, which is what they voted us for.

One of the most outstanding tax reductions of this legislature has been the Plusvalia tax, with the ordinance that recently passed through the commission and that also proposes the extension of the bonus this year in storage rooms and garages. How will this affect the citizens?

I like to be prudent with the subject of the plusvalia. It is true that this city council with this government had the criterion to begin to return capital gains to those who did not have to pay them because there had not been increase in the transmission, because what taxes the capital gain is the increase in the value of the ground. We made a single criterion because in the capital gains tax there has been an infinity of jurisprudence of doctrine, of judicial pronouncements of courts of first instance, of the TSJ, of the Constitutional Court….

When we arrived here there was a jumble of resolutions and the one who was most affected was the citizen who did not know what to do and who had to prove whether he had an increase or not, who had to appeal, who had to spend money on lawyers. The first thing we did was to have a single criterion. I do not know if tomorrow the courts will overturn it or not, but we got together, we put everything on the table and we made a criterion and we have started to return many capital gains, which are still to be returned, to citizens who did not have to pay.

But it is true that the Government of Spain has also changed a criterion for the liquidation of capital gains and that has made that we have had to modify several times the ordinances of capital gains and now we are waiting for the Government of Spain to compensate the municipalities for the loss of revenue that the capital gains meant.

In this city council there have been governments that have collected up to 72 million euros for capital gains. Now we are in negative numbers but this also affects our tax collection and therefore we have also made amendments to the bill that is being processed in the Spanish Parliament to compensate -just as the Economic Activities Tax was compensated in its day- the city councils that in the end what we do is to tell the citizens to pay when they have to pay and not when they do not have to pay.

Precisely the capital gains tax was the main claim of taxpayers in the Board of Economic-Administrative Claims, a body that was promoted from your area in 2021 after 16 years paralyzed. What is your assessment of this first year of operation?

It is a new body that we set up after 16 years, which is not long to say. Here there was a regulation in 2004 of the Court of Economic and Administrative Claims and in 16 years no government has implemented it. This means that it has not been easy for any government and for any politician or Treasury Counselor, because there are times when it is more uncomfortable to put things into operation than to let it pass.

This government faced a need, which in the end is one more service for the citizen, to set up an economic-administrative court that had not been set up for 16 years. We have done it and with optimum results and with a procedure that had never been done in this house and about which nothing is said: the board has been set up with objective, independent and professional personnel to provide the greatest legal security to the citizen. But we have also made a telematic procedure from the beginning to the end. That is to say, the natural or legal person who wants to can file a claim telematically and its resolution is telematic. Those who do not, have the option of doing it on paper because we still have a digital gap, but this is the first body in this institution that is going completely digital and that is very important because we save time and it is free.

All of us politicians are always saying that we have to save time, red carpet. Well, this body is digital to save time for the citizen, free to provide greater legal certainty and is composed of the best, independent professionals and objectivity that what they do is to review the administrative activity of the council. Therefore, it is a double review and that, to the citizen, gives greater legal certainty, which is what we are looking for: to always improve the service to the citizen.

One of the points on which your department is working is the promotion of municipal contracting. What actions are being carried out in this regard?

This is one of our main concerns and objectives because municipal contracting is transversal. It is true that we have a Public Sector Contracts Law that must be complied with. Regardless of who approved it, it must be complied with, but it is cumbersome, complicated and often delays local entities.

We found a very high volume of payments without being covered by contracts. We made a hiring shock plan from 2019 to March 2022 and we have regularized 86% of the contracts. These are objective data, they are published on the web, any citizen can see them.

We have tendered contracts that had not had a contract for 6 or 7 years, that is to say, services were being paid for without being covered by a contract. This was a burden for Zaragoza City Council. There is still a lot to do in contractual matters. Now we have implemented with more staff to try to regularize the maximum number of contracts because this means that when you put out to tender many companies can present themselves, that there are low costs, that is to say, economic cost savings for the City Council, regularization of legality, order in the contracting and provision of services.

In the end, what we are looking for is that efficiency of the expense, to give competitiveness to all the companies that want to present themselves from Zaragoza or from abroad, better service at the best cost and to have the compliance with the legality regularized as much as possible.

We are devoting a little time every day to municipal contracting in order to achieve these objectives.

Another of the issues of interest to the Presidency, Treasury and Interior is digitalization. What actions would you highlight from those carried out over the last few years?

A clear example is the Economic Administrative Court that is working, it is a reality that we have achieved. When we arrived we asked ourselves what was the procedure most used by the citizens and we saw that it was the municipal census, both the flyers and the census certificates. Since we have been in government, you can apply for the flyers and certificates absolutely digitally.

Now we are extending it to the whole issue of the municipal tax agency and we are making a catalog of telematic procedures to start implementing them in the Treasury area.

It is true that in the Treasury area there was a lot of work, we have some very good internal services in this house and in taxation, nowadays, it is already possible to pay telematically. But we have very scattered procedures and what we are doing is to bring them together, reduce the number of procedures and make them telematic. One of the objectives, if we have time, is that we are studying the robotization of procedures in procedures that are the same in time and periodic in order to avoid signatures, folders and paper. This is said soon but, as I have the pleasure of being here every day, I see that it is much more complicated than we think.

The ideal would be the robotization of public administration procedures because it would save a lot of costs, civil servants could devote themselves to something else but for that we have to walk every day.

Today is the open day of the Municipal Archive, which preserves and disseminates documents of interest for the history of our city. Is this archive sufficiently known?

No, I think that citizens, maybe because we live in a very fast life, we do not have time to know what we have in the city. The Municipal Archive is a jewel that we have in our city and from this area we have promoted the digitization of collections, we are committed to making the Municipal Archive known.

The other day we were donated a collection from the Zaragoza Film Library, another one from the Philharmonic. We are constantly supporting the archive, we have organized open days, I invite every citizen who wants to know the history of Zaragoza to go to the Montemuzo Palace, it is a jewel. We have an extraordinary staff and we will continue to support this free of charge, open doors and to make known the history of the city. In the end it is heritage and we have to open the windows to everything we have in this city hall so that the citizens can enjoy it.

At what stage of construction is the Quiron Hospital and when is it expected to open?

This is an area that escapes me, which is Urban Planning, and I could be wrong, but I believe that the licenses have already been granted, the machines have been working for months and in 2023 or 2024 it will be up and running. We believe, and it does not hurt me to say it, in private companies, that is to say, we believe in the freedom of companies. If a private or public company decides to come to Zaragoza we have to help it, we have to be facilitators for those investments, for those who want to come to Zaragoza because we generate employment, housing, tourism, investment.

“Of the large cities in Spain, we are the one with the lowest general rate of IBI. More than Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Malaga”

We believe in public-private collaboration, in joining synergies and sponsorships, in seeing the private initiative because they are far ahead of the public administrations that are always lagging behind and we have to copy the private initiative, to open our minds. Therefore, we are a government that firmly believes in public-private collaboration, we believe that the administrations have a lot to copy from private initiatives and we do not hesitate to say that in the end the administrations have to help people who risk part of their patrimony to generate employment and economy, and not hinder them. The PP and Ciudadanos are clear that we have to support all companies, be they small, medium, autonomous or large, so that they can develop.

The administrations sometimes we are stones in the development of the companies. So we have to change the mentality, that is why digitalization, robotization, time saving. We have to join this train and we have to learn from what is done well and banish what is done badly.

How important is it to have women occupying positions of responsibility, such as yours at the head of this department, when it comes to creating references for the new generations of women?

I believe that I am no more important than any woman who works today and has children and a family. I have been given this time and we are passing through politics, I am very clear about that. I have a lot of responsibility, I think that in life you have to do things well, try to reconcile. I believe in conciliation policies, it is a backpack that this society has pending because I am a privileged woman and therefore I cannot compare myself with the women of today who in many occasions have to choose between working and having children and it is a disgrace. And therefore I think that as a society we still have a lot to do.

I am very supportive of reconciliation policies; moreover, we have recently presented the family check because the administrations have to dedicate real resources to reconciliation policies. We have a huge problem in this country, which is the birth rate, it is obvious, but sometimes it is not because women do not want to have children, but because it is not possible nowadays. As Councilor of the Treasury I have the obligation to allocate resources to the birth rate. In these three years, we have fulfilled our commitments in terms of conciliation. We have little room for maneuver. I am a woman and mother of three daughters. I am a privileged woman and I am not an example for the majority, but I am aware of the reality faced by young women who are very well prepared to develop their professional careers, but the political and management deficit that we have had as a society is that we have not known how to deal well with reconciliation policies, as in other countries of the European Union, such as Germany, which has much more advanced policies.

So I come back to the same thing: let’s copy what is done well in other countries, let’s banish what has been done badly and let’s look to the future to try to solve the problem of women who have to choose between working and having children so that they can do both without having to give up either of them.

Who are your female leadership role models?

My mother has marked me a lot in my life, my grandmothers too. I think we are what we have been taught at home and I have been instilled with the values of effort and trying to do things well and that is what I try to do every day.

If you ask me about political referents, in the Popular Party there are many female referents: first female mayors, ministers or presidents of Autonomous Communities. The Popular Party has believed in women for their merits, without having to have it by law. In the end, opportunities must be given to everyone.

To dedicate oneself to politics as a woman is not easy. I am proud of all the women who have passed through the party and have left examples of what it means to manage for the general interest.

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