Italy’s Bersani Pushes for Payroll Tax Cut Financed by Wealthy

Pier Luigi Bersani, the front-runner in next month’s Italian election, is pushing for a payroll-tax cut and would finance it by raising taxes on the rich and cracking down on fiscal evasion.

“There is room to finance a reduction of these burdens,” Bersani said late yesterday in an interview televised on Canale 5’s “Italy Asks” program. “A redistribution within the fiscal system is possible; something progressive can be done.”

The 61-year-old former communist is appealing to his base of supporters in organized labor after his lead in opinion polls was reduced amid a comeback by three-time former Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The push for tax cuts has grown since Berlusconi entered the parliamentary race in December with an anti-austerity platform that includes a call for the abolition of property levies on primary residences.

Bersani said in a Sky TG24 interview last week he planned to cut income taxes for low and middle earners and raise rates for the wealthiest. Each of the three major candidates, including Prime Minster Mario Monti, has said they will push to boost recoveries from tax evaders.

“It’s absolutely possible to get something more” from tax enforcement, Bersani said.

Public support for Bersani’s coalition slipped to 37.4 percent from 40.3 percent in December, according to an EMG poll on Jan. 14. The group led by Berlusconi, 76, rose to 27.9 percent from 25.3 percent, while Monti and his allies gained to 14.8 percent. Monti, 69, polled at 9.9 percent a month ago, prior to declaring his candidacy.

Focus on Berlusconi

The top candidates are challenging each other indirectly through TV interviews ahead of a planned debate next month and the Feb. 24-25 ballot. Berlusconi, a billionaire media magnate, has garnered the biggest headlines with a series of contentious interviews, while also drawing the most criticism from his rivals. Monti said yesterday he voted for Berlusconi in 1994 and was subsequently disappointed.

“I saw the promise of a liberal revolution that unfortunately didn’t go ahead,” Monti said in an interview on Sky TG24’s “Lo Spoglio” program.

Italian voters are going to the polls a year after Monti, with the parliamentary support of both Berlusconi and Bersani, passed emergency tax increases that helped the country sidestep the worst of the European debt crisis.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.