Bouches-du-Rhne the – Interview by William ALLAIRE – Territories
The first vice-president of the Aix-Marseille Provence metropolis, in charge of budgetary strategy, Gérard Bramoullé, discusses the reasons for the drastic drop in investment voted by the community on November 19. It is necessary for him, because of the current weight of the debt. A principle of reality that he justifies in this interview.
TPBM: The 2021 budget of the Mtropole is marked by the drastic drop in investment. Was there no alternative?
Grard Bramoull : Before answering the substance, we must go back to the origin of the institution and its financial and fiscal governance pact. This met several requirements: not to increase taxes and not to increase the debt, while securing repayments to municipalities … so many objectives that were not respected as shown in the recent report by the Regional Chamber of Accounts. In four years, the debt has soared close to the 3 billion euros and savings have collapsed. However, without savings, we lose our self-financing capacity.
In a normal situation, one should be able to self-finance up to 30% of investment operations. Today, we are less than 10%, with massive recourse to the loan. But we cannot continue to live on credit indefinitely. Reality catches up with us. If we do not want to increase taxes, we must reduce the use of borrowing.
To go further: Aix-Marseille-Provence: investments in the dry regime
But were these investments necessary, particularly in terms of mobility?
We launched projects without worrying about whether we had the means to finance them. Mobility-related projects alone represent nearly 150 million euros in our annual investment budget. I am thinking in particular of the Marseille tramway, which costs twice as much as a high-level bus service for almost the same efficiency. Today we are experiencing the backlash of this madness of grandeur. Debt itself is not a problem: it is the ability to repay loans that matters. And in this area, we are far from being exemplary. The normal repayment period for a loan is on average eight years. On the supplementary transport budget, we are 18 years old. Fortunately, rates are at the bottom. Because it is untenable on the hard!
Construction professionals are worried about the decline in public procurement. The austerity cure which is announced for 2021 does not bode well …?
I hear this concern. But once again, we have to reframe things: the investment expenditure included in the budgetary orientation document is effectively down by 25% compared to the original 2020 budget. But in 2020, we were in an electoral year traditionally marked by growth in equipment spending. If we compare to the pace of the last five years, the drop is more around -10 -15%. This remains a more sustainable figure for the construction industry. And this is not a lasting fall. The ambition is just to take a break of one or two years to loosen the debt clamp and find a more serene budget trajectory. We will adjust the payment credits without touching the program authorizations that support the projects. These will just be in time.
Some point to the inequality of treatment between the territories. What do you answer them?
We should not focus on demography alone. In terms of structuring policy, the size of the territories is an important variable. The Aix region and its 36 municipalities cover nearly 42% of the metropolitan area (1,333 km2 over 3,173 km2), compared to 20% for the Marseille-Provence area (604 km2).