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Letter: Budget speech hides real economic news

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett would not give details of the $283 million in spending cuts made in this year’s budget. Opposition leader Paul Davis said he thinks layoffs are coming.
Finance Minister Cathy Bennett would not give details of the $283 million in spending cuts made in this year’s budget. Opposition leader Paul Davis said he thinks layoffs are coming.

If you listened to Finance Minister Cathy Bennett’s budget speech, you would think we’ve turned a corner and that things are looking reasonably hopeful in the province.

Unfortunately, when you scrutinize the background budget documents, a much bleaker picture emerges. It’s as if there are two entirely different budgets — the one for public consumption, and the real one.

The budget speech had the usual array of bureaucratic buzzwords — “zero-based budgeting,” “flatter, leaner management,” “achieving fiscal targets.”

There was nothing about the government’s forecasts for household incomes, retail sales, housing starts, the cost of living or the unemployment rate.

Not only that, but the Finance minister refused to answer questions about these vital economic indicators in the House of Assembly, and when the questioning from the Opposition and the media got too intense, government shut the House early for an extended Easter break of nearly three weeks, after just two sitting days following the budget announcement.

The economic indicators the minister refused to include in her budget speech or talk about in the House of Assembly are grim. Average household income is forecast to decline every year for the next five years. So are retail sales, housing starts, capital investment, employment and even our population.

The only economic indicators forecast to increase are the cost of living and the unemployment rate, which are both expected to increase every single year for the next five years.

We have a jobs crisis. We have a huge deficit of opportunities for young people, who are leaving the province they love and putting down roots elsewhere. Too many of our seniors are living in harsh circumstances.

Government was lambasted by the public after last year’s budget, so their approach this year is to restrict the flow of information and stick to a few talking points.

They appear to be hoping that people who were justifiably angry at last year’s budget will be relieved by this one, even though it is practically the same budget, in that it continues the vast majority of the punitive elements of the disastrous 2016 budget.

The budget speech highlights the reduction in the gasoline tax, but fails to mention that the other 299 taxes and fees introduced or increased in last year’s budget remain in effect.

We’re still the only province taxing books. The HST increase that the Liberals promised not to implement remains in effect. The Liberal Levy is still there. You still pay a 15 per cent tax on insurance. Personal income tax increases remain in effect.

There’s virtually nothing that gives people any relief from the harsh measures of the 2016 budget.

Government is obviously hoping the bad news will come out in dribs and drabs, if at all.

We’re doing our best to expose these important details to public scrutiny.

In the meantime, if you heaved a sigh of relief on budget day, you might want to reconsider. There’s no relief in sight.

 

Earle McCurdy, Leader
N.L. NDP 

 

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