BUCHAREST, Romania – There's more bad news in the cards for Romania's beleaguered witches.
A month after Romanian authorities began taxing them for their trade, the country's soothsayers and fortune tellers are cursing a new bill that threatens fines or even prison if their predictions don't come true.
Superstition is a serious matter in the land of Dracula, and officials have turned to witches to help the recession-hit country collect more money and crack down on tax evasion.
Witches argue they shouldn't be blamed for the failure of their tools.
"They can't condemn witches, they should condemn the cards," Queen Witch Bratara Buzea told The Associated Press by telephone.
Critics say the proposal is a ruse to deflect public attention from the country's many problems. In 2009, Romania needed a euro20 billion ($27.31 billion) International Monetary Fund-led bailout loan to pay salaries and pensions when its economy contracted more than 7 percent. Last year, the economy shrank again. However, this year a slight recovery of 1.5 percent growth is forecast.
European Union and Romanian officials say local authorities are hampered by political bickering and bureaucracy. The centrist government is unpopular, the opposition is weak, the press thrives on conspiracy and personal attacks, and EU officials say the justice system needs to be reformed. Romanians are jaded and mistrustful.
"The government doesn't have real solutions, so it invents problems," said Stelian Tanase, a well-known Romanian political commentator. "This is the government that this country deserves."
In January, the government changed labor laws to officially recognize the centuries-old practice of witchcraft as a taxable profession, prompting angry witches to dump poisonous mandrake into the Danube in an attempt to put a hex on them.
The latest bill was passed in the Senate last week, but must still be approved by a financial and labor committee and by the Chamber of Deputies, the other house of Romania's parliament.
Bratara called the proposed bill overblown. "I will fight until my last breath for this not to be passed," she said.
Sometimes, she argued, people don't provide their real identities, dates of birth or other personal details, which could skew a seer's predictions. "What about when the client gives false details about themselves? We can't be blamed for that."
The new bill would also require witches to have a permit, to provide their customers with receipts and bar them from practicing near schools and churches.
Tanase has a solution.
"Maybe they should put a spell on (Prime Minister Emil) Boc and (President Traian) Basescu, so they can find the solutions," he said.