Less than seven weeks after the general elections in the Netherlands – a record in the nation’s history – conservative party leader Mark Rutte and social democrat leader Diederik Samsom presented their new government coalition agreement on October 29, 2012. The agreement consists of 81 pages of policy decisions, including budget cuts amounting to $20 billion. So what’s the news for the voluntary sector in the agreement?
Well, that’s not very clear. The voluntary sector is not mentioned explicitly in the agreement. It is almost as if private action for the public good does not exist. There is no mention at all of philanthropy, charitable giving, donors, volunteering, volunteers, nonprofit organizations, or foundations. One has to read closely to find both the good and bad news for the voluntary sector.
First the good news: there is nothing in the agreement about the charitable deduction. This means it will be retained. Despite the recent advice of an income tax review committee to cut the charitable deduction, the coalition agreement does not mention the issue at all. The committee’s advice met with severe criticism from a variety of experts after its report was released.
Then the not so good news. The gambling market will be liberalized. As of 2015 all lottery permits will be handed out through an ‘auction or beauty contest’. This means that all lotteries, including state and charity lotteries, will have to compete for new permits. The auction will generate income for the state, at the expense of the lotteries. Also the competition makes funding for nonprofit organizations from lotteries uncertain.
Finally the bad news: funding for service learning programs in secondary education will be cut. The previous government introduced obligatory service learning programs for all students in secondary education, taking effect in 2012. With the first cohort of students just under way, the new government cuts funding for the programs. This means that the investments of schools into the development of the programs are lost and that the infrastructure cannot be financed anymore with government funds. It is likely that many schools will stop the programs that were popular among students. A striking detail is that the head of the commission that reviewed education policy changes in the past decade, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, is the new Minister of Finance. One of the recommendations of the Dijsselbloem committee was not to chance education policy unless rigorous research has shown positive effects of any new changes. The abolishment of service learning does not meet that criterion.