President Mauricio Macri visited Vaca Muerta today. (Handout Argentine Presidency)

President Mauricio Macri has asked provincial and municipal governments to cut taxes on utilities as the public conversation about the cost of energy continues to rumble on.

Following the decision by the government to introduce a payment plan on utilities that has not been well-received by the opposition, Macri traveled today to Vaca Muerta in Neuquén province – the shale gas and oil deposit that has been cited as a major boon for Argentina’s energy sector – to defend his government’s energy policy, urge reduced consumption and to ask provinces to reduce the taxes that consumers see on their bills.

“Today I want to ask the municipalities and provincial governments to cut taxes that they charge on utilities. That way they are going to lessen the burden for every consumer, every store and every small business” said Macri in a video message.

In a clearly coordinated move, Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal (also of Cambiemos) spoke moments after Macri’s message to announce that her government would be cutting taxes. The governor confirmed that taxes would be reduced by 6 percent for was and natural gas and 15 percent on electricity as soon as the next billing cycle. Some of the taxes can be cut by  water, electricity and natural gas prices would be reduced by amendments to the law, and others by decree. The cuts are to the tax component of the bill, not the total cost.

The president urged Argentines to keep in mind that “in terms of electricity Argentines consume 52 percent more than homes in Uruguay, and more than double in Chile. We pay 40 percent less (for electricity) than they do in Chile and almost half of what they pay in Uruguay.”

Following recent turmoil and complaints about the utility hikes Macri also noted that “I know that the updating of utilities is a heavy burden. I know how much it hurts your pockets. I understand what is happening. I know it isn’t easy. If there had been another way believe that I would have done it.”

Macri was forced into an emergency meeting last week under pressure from fellow Cambiemos allies in the form of the UCR and the Coalición Cívica. The meeting followed several days of harsh criticism directed at the government from the partners in the coalition and a day after the opposition called a special session in Congress aimed at rolling back prices of utilities to January 2018 values, before the last wave of hikes.

The attempt proved futile, however, as the opposition caucuses fell one short of garnering the 129 deputies necessary to muster quorum and formally debate the bill before 12 PM, when the session was lifted.