Financiación Autonómica y gasto público en el período 2009-2017. ¿Están las CCAA preparadas para hacer frente a la Covid-19?

Alberto Turnes Abelenda, Xavier Vence Deza


Desde el año 2010 hasta el año 2014, y como consecuencia de la crisis financiera, las CCAA han tenido que llevar a cabo una importante contención del gasto público que ha afectado principalmente a los Servicios Públicos Fundamentales. A partir del año 2014 se produce una nueva fase de expansión económica; pero en la actualidad, más de diez años después del comienzo de la crisis financiera, el gasto público realizado por la mayoría de las CCAA sigue situándose por debajo del nivel registrado en el año 2009. Este hecho pone de manifiesto que los diferentes territorios siguen registrando una insuficiencia de recursos, especialmente para hacer frente a la Covid-19. Además, las diferencias registradas entre CCAA indican que el modelo de financiación autonómica no ha solucionado los problemas de equidad y eficiencia que registraban desde su entrada en vigor.


The process of decentralisation that began in Spain in the 1980s was carried out in an uneven manner. Articles 151 and 143 of the Constitution marked two different rhythms in the decentralisation of power.

Article 151 meant access to decentralisation by the fast track and involved the transfer of common competences, i.e. the promotion of economic development, public works, economic regulation, culture, social services and also competences in education and health. The Autonomous Communities (ACs) that took this route were; Andalusia, Catalonia, the Canary Islands, the Valencian Community, Galicia, the Basque Country and Navarre.

On the other hand, Article 143 implied a slower process of decentralisation, in which, in the first instance, certain Communities assumed the same powers as those indicated in the previous paragraph, with the exception of health and education. The ACs which used this route were: Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Cantabria, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla y León, Extremadura, La Rioja, Madrid and Murcia.

The financing of these competences was based on transfers from the central state to the respective ACs, following agreement on the calculation of expenditure needs.

The financing of health and education for the Autonomous Regions which were granted access under Article 143 was carried out by INSALUD and IMSERSO, two public bodies responsible for distributing expenditure among the different territories (De la Fuente, 2012).

The process of fiscal decentralisation was slower and more complex. From the 1980s onwards, certain taxes were transferred, such as property, transfers and gambling, and the transfer of large state taxes began, with 15% of personal income tax being transferred.

It was in the second half of the nineties that a considerable decentralisation of income began. The turning point came in 1996, when 30% of personal income tax was ceded to the different territories, which meant that it was given a certain regulatory capacity, as well as other taxes which significantly increased the Autonomous Regions' own fiscal resources.

Starting from spending percentages which stood at 22% in the ACs and 38% in the Central Administration, the situation changed completely when the autonomous financing model was introduced in 2001. In 2005, the ACs increased their percentage of expenditure to 37%, while the central administration decreased its share of expenditure to 22%. At the same time, 35% of personal income tax and VAT and 40% of excise duties were transferred.

However, this change was not as intense on the revenue side as the State continued to manage a greater volume of resources than the ACs. That is, the ACs, with a higher share of expenditure than the Central Administration, managed a lower volume of tax resources.

The ACs have now become the main providers of fundamental public services (health, education and social services). Thus, expenditure on such services represents 60% of public expenditure, with the ACs responsible for 38% and Social Security for 52% (Ivie, 2017).

From 2010 and as the main response to the crisis, the different regional governments made considerable cuts in public spending due to the reduction in income from the financing system. In this regard, for the period 2010-2014, non-financial expenditure by the ACs contracted by an average of 14%. This reduction has had a significant social impact, as the main cuts have been made in Basic Public Services. From 2014 onwards, there was a change in the economic cycle and positive growth in GDP began to be recorded, but in the majority of the ACs the increase in resources allocated to these items was limited, and furthermore it occurred in a very unequal manner between the different territories.

Consequently, the resources allocated to Fundamental Public Services are still considerably lower than the EU average 19. Thus, according to Eurostat (2020), while expenditure on health, education and social protection as a percentage of GDP for all public administrations was 31.1% in the EU19 in 2018, in Spain it was 26.9%. This would mean that, if we want to carry out a process of convergence with the EU19, total expenditure on these three functions would have to increase by EUR 51,782.36 million. This figure was hardly different from 2009, when the difference in expenditure was EUR 53,466.15 million.

The above data shows the gap that exists between Spain and the EU19 in relation to public expenditure on Fundamental Public Services. Thus, Spain has a constant deficit/insufficiency of resources which prevents convergence with the countries which spend most on these public services.

Therefore, the main aim of this paper is to analyse the evolution of public expenditure on Fundamental Public Services in the different ACs from 2009 to 2017, and to highlight the insufficiency of resources and the disparities between the territories and how these affect the equity and efficiency of the regional financing model. Furthermore, in relation to the economic crisis derived from the Covid-19 situation, this analysis will allow us to know the situation of the autonomous public expenditure level and if it can face the situation derived from the Covid-19.

The work carried out provides a series of results which highlight the public spending constraints faced by the different ACs. The main results are as follows.

1. Total expenditure by the ACs was 88% of 2009 levels in 2017. Only the Balearic Islands would record a higher level of expenditure than that recorded in 2009.

2. Focusing on spending on health, education and social services, only health registered a higher level of spending than in 2009.

3. In 2017, average expenditure per inhabitant will be 90% of that recorded in 2009. In 2009, per capita expenditure was EUR 3,649.27, while in 2017 it was EUR 3,266.8. A difference of EUR 446.5. Regarding to the average expenditure per inhabitant in Fundamental Public Services, once again, only health would register a higher level than in 2009

4. When the average expenditure for the selected period is analysed, the differences between the ACs can be seen in greater detail. Whereas Extremadura spent an average of EUR 3,699.5, Cantabria EUR 3,658 and La Rioja EUR 3,511, the average expenditure in Madrid was EUR 2,690.9, in Valencia EUR 2,840.79 and in Andalusia EUR 2,883.30.

5. Finally, with regard to adjusted per capita expenditure, the results indicate that there are ACs which, starting from higher than average funding, end up with lower than average adjusted per capita expenditure. Finally, with regard to adjusted per capita expenditure, the results indicate that there are ACs which, starting from a higher than average level of financing, end up with adjusted per capita expenditure which is lower than the average.

The data indicated above offer two main conclusions. The first is that in 2017 all the Autonomous Regions, with the exception of the Balearic Islands, maintained non-financial expenditure below the level of 2009, which highlights the containment of public expenditure and the insufficiency of resources in the different territories. The second conclusion refers to the inequality in the resources associated with Fundamental Public Services between the ACs. Thus, the differences between those who spend the most and those who spend the least remain at very significant levels.

In this way, taking into account the level of public expenditure over the years studied and the difference in resources between the different ACs, it is clear that the current model of regional financing continues to show a problem of insufficient resources and inequity. Moreover, when account is taken of the inflation recorded over the period under review, these problems are considerably aggravated.

Finally, it is essential to point out that the results provided involve assuming the Autonomous Regions' limited resources to face up to the economic and social situation arising from the Covid-19 crisis. If the sharp increase in the deficit and public debt is followed by a new phase of public expenditure containment, the data indicate that the Autonomous Regions' margin for adjustment is practically zero, which could lead to the collapse of the Fundamental Public Services.

© Revista de estudios regionales 2014 Universidades Públicas de Andalucía