On April 24 the numbers will be out and you’ll have to decide whether or not you like or dislike Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s first budget as the publicly voted leader of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Approximately a year ago, she got to present her first ever budget as Premier, after being sworn in as former Premier Danny William’s replacement in December 2010, and she put out some sweet deals for the people, businesses and organizations of the province.
Maybe you can remember, there was an increase in childcare, tax credits for volunteer firefighters, major investments in mental health, increasing payroll tax exemptions, and, of course, becoming an investor in a television show.
Not bad for an election year.
So what will come this year — six months after she and her Conservative government formed the party’s third consecutive majority government?
That no doubt is a multi-, multi-million dollar question.
A year ago, she was able to put a few extra dollars in the pockets of ordinary citizens, and after all, isn’t that just what taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador want — money staying in their pocket to use to promote economic growth within the cities, towns and communities of the province.
You might also recall from last year’s budget, Finance Minister Tom Marshall spewing on about financial surpluses, portraying a sense of optimism for the future of the province.
However, if you think back, out of the other side of his mouth, he warned of a major deficit for 2012-’13 — guess what, that’s now.
Minister Marshall has already this year re-enforced this fact at a pre-budget meeting in St. John’s in January where he stated the province could be looking at a potential deficit of in the range of a half a billion dollars.
This was quite the contrast to a news release issued by his department in November, when it happily announced the projected surplus for 2011-’12 had been revised from a projected $59.1 million figure in April 2011 to $755.8 million.
In that release, he said, “This surplus will be applied directly to debt, decreasing the province’s net debt to approximately $7.7 billion, which is a significant achievement.
“There has never been a better time to live in Newfoundland and Labrador. A robust economy is producing record employment, income levels and consumer confidence. Having said that, we must remain prudent in our fiscal management as there are challenges on the horizon that we must face.”
So here it is, no one really knows what to expect because the residents of the province, depending to which side they may have their heads tilted, are hearing two different scenarios. In the left ear, it can be heard that there’s money to spend, but on the right side, we can’t spend it on you because we have to look out for the future.
So, once again it’s a waiting game for the people of the province, laced with the uncertainty of not knowing whether we will see improvements in our health-care, social and education programs, or even if there will be tax cuts to help keep some more extra money in the people’s pockets.
The one thing we all know is the game of politics is one of strategy, and unlike last year, the people of the province aren’t holding any (election) cards up their sleeves like last year.
You also need to remember that the budget, while controlled and released by the government, is a product of the people of the province.
There have been much work, sweat, tears and sacrifices made by the residents of the province to allow government to have this positive financial outlook, and whether or not the upcoming budget bodes well immediately for the people or for the generations to come, everyone right now deserves a pat on the back for putting government in a challenging position of making a decision of where your money should be spent.
Let’s hope government doesn’t miss the opportunity to thank its people, and do some good things in return.
— Kevin Higgins, The Beacon