Italy again pushes back balanced budget goal

ROME (AP) — Italy has again pushed back its balanced-budget goal, now aiming for 2016.

Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan wrote to the European Commission this week, saying that because of Italy's stubborn economic crisis, it's now aiming for a balanced structural budget in 2016. In 2011, then-Premier Silvio Berlusconi had promised that Italy would balance its budget by 2013. But with the country mired in recession, in 2012, during economist Mario Monti's government, the date was rolled back to 2015.

On Thursday, both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies approved the 2016 target. Padoan cited Italy's decision to accelerate payment of the remaining amount of public debt arrears as a key factor in the pushback.

Many private businesses had said they risked failure if the government didn't pay what it owed them for services and goods. As part of its strategy to heal state finances, Italy also has been periodically putting up for sale property ranging from unused military barracks to castles. The latest round includes a 99-year-concession lease for use of Poveglia island in the Venetian lagoon. The uninhabited island, which once was home to a convent, has been abandoned for decades. It is a popular place for boaters.

Venice's mayor has joined many fellow Venetians in pledging 99 euros ($137) apiece in hopes of collectively being the highest bidder on May 7. Minimum bid has been set at 350,000 euros ($490,000). Mayor Giorgio Orsoni says instead of yet another luxury hotel for Venice, Poveglia could become home to a youth or cultural center.

Also up for bid is a castle near Gorizia, in northeast Italy and a former convent in the southern Puglia region. The sell-off is expected to bring only modest returns, possibly a few million euros, Italian media reported, because the properties would require heavy investment to adapt them for new uses.

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