Hearing one thing and doing another: Budget response

Creating budgets is about making decisions to favour one thing over another. Victor Boudreau’s tour of the Province was  to get advice from the people of New Brunswick on what should be the priorities in this year’s budget, with an eye to balancing the books over the next few years.  Did he and the Minister of Finance listen?

Eliminating the tuition rebate for recent graduates, a measure to encourage young people to stay in New Brunswick after they graduate, is nowhere to be found in the pages of the government’s consultation report, “What Was Said”.  Nor will you find a suggestion to remove the cap on nursing home costs.

What was said?  One of the most frequently contributed idea, according to the report, was to increase corporate taxes.  The government even included this suggestion in it news release announcing the results of the consultation. However, corporate income taxes do not go up with this budget, despite the fact that putting our corporate taxes on par with those of Nova Scotia would generate $68 million a year in much needed revenue.

Minister Finance Roger Melanson insists we are all in this together, that the principle of fairness guided his decision-making, that those with the greatest ability to pay would be asked to do more.  CIBC World Markets reported this week that corporate profit margins have hit a 27-year high with sectors such as wood products and pulp and paper among those leading the way. Forbes Magazine recently reported that the Irving brothers holdings are worth $12 billion, about the size of New Brunswick’s debt.  This is what I mean.  It’s about choices.

Ask corporate New Brunswick to do more, or ask recent university graduates and seniors to pony up. It’s a choice.

To be fair, the governing party did follow through on their promise to create two new income tax brackets on the high end of the income scale so people with a greater ability to contribute would be required to do so.  That’s the way our income tax system works for personal taxes.  The more you make, the more you contribute, but it doesn’t hold true for corporations with revenues above $500,000.

What else was said among the 10 most frequently contributed ideas published in Victor Boudreau’s report.  Stop giving away natural resources and increase royalties.  Are we going to earn more from the timber, potash, minerals and natural gas extracted from our landscape?  No.  Are we going to keep giving way natural resources?  Apparently.

What about health care?  Among the top 10 suggestions was to focus on wellness.  We will spend $2.6 billion in the budget to deal with sickness.  The $14 million we spent on healthy living last year vanished from sight with the elimination of the Department of Healthy and Inclusive Communities.  Will it appear somewhere else in the budget? Will a better balance bet struck between $2.6 billion for sick care and $14 million for wellness.  I asked the Minister of Finance, but he seemed unsure.

What was not among the top 10 most frequently contributed ideas, was the elimination of 249 teaching positions or the closure of local court houses.  Cutting teachers when the educations system is already overtaxed is just wrong.  Shutting down local court houses may save a little money, but will justice be done?  Perhaps the Finance Minister didn’t get the memo.  There is no bus service between St. Stephen and Saint John.  If your license is suspended or you don’t own a car (at least one that’s fit to put on the highway), getting your day in court may not be so easy anymore.

As for getting the deficit under control this budget increases expenses 1.5% over last year, but only increases revenues by 0.6%

It doesn’t add up – just like many of the measures in this budget.  Returning to balanced books will not be easy.  However, kicking the problem down the road until next year is no solution.

*Mr. Coon will respond to the budget in the house in the coming week and the full response will be posted on this site.