Hokkaido announced its initial budget for 2021 on 19 February, with a 15.4% (JPY432.9 billion) increase over last year to JPY3.25 trillion (US$30.9 billion). This is the third largest initial budget ever for the prefecture, which will now be proposed at the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly regular session on 25 February.
However, funds for IR development were a notable absentee following recent comments by Governor Naomichi Suzuki that an IR was not in the immediate future for Hokkaido. Funds being set aside in prefectual budgets have traditionally been considered by experts as a strong indicator of a prefecture’s intentions regarding IRs. The fact that no funds have been set aside for IR development in Hokkaido’s 2021 budget appears to signal the death knell for any remaining glimmers of hope that Hokkaido could somehow jump back into Japan’s IR race.
While Governor Suzuki has said that Hokkaido continues to explore the development of an IR in the prefecture, it seems this can only now refer to the so-called “second round“ of Japanese IRs, to be held seven years after the current round – if and only if the current round is considered to be a success.
At a press conference, Suzuki positioned the new fiscal year’s budget as “a budget that protects lives, livelihoods and creates a path for the future.” It is hoped this will help the prefecture navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and build a society resistant to infectious disease while also promoting Hokkaido’s future in a post-pandemic world.
A pillar of this is the JPY643.1 billion (US$6.1 billion) earmarked for enhancement of the medical care system and financial support for COVID countermeasures. On the other hand, after already foregoing a bid in the national government’s first phase, integrated resorts have not been included in the budget due to “uncertainty of future developments.”
Revenue has declined in the economic downturn and the prefecture’s financial situation is strained. Governor Suzuki commented, “We will firmly defend ourselves while at the same time starting on proactive policy. Balancing defense and offense has been difficult but we will accept the challenge to build a future for Hokkaido while controlling the pandemic.”