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Provincial Viewpoint -- Deficit worse than reported

It’s great this year’s provincial deficit is not as bad as the government’s current budget expected.

The booster class that cheers the NDP government no matter what it does must have let out a big sigh of relief when it heard that news.

But how do the government’s recent numbers compare with where it thought we would be when it made some predictions almost two years ago?

In short, things aren’t as pretty.

If you blow off a thin layer of dust on the 2012-13 provincial budget and look at the government’s predictions for 2013-14 (this year), you’ll see it predicted expenses to exceed revenues — a deficit — of “just” $176 million. That’s a far cry from the $432-million deficit that was recently announced by Finance Minister Jennifer Howard. In fact, it’s more than twice as bad as her government predicted.

So what could be the problem? It must be something on the revenue side, right? After all, government loyalists routinely dismiss the allegation the government has a spending problem. Certainly revenues must not be as high as the government thought they would be when it made the prediction.

Yet, if you thumb through the 2012 budget, you’ll find the Selinger government thought its revenues would be $14.34 billion for this year, but we’re actually on pace for $14.46 billion, about $125 million higher than expected.

The answer to the problem seems to lie with some information below the revenue line in the budget — the expense line. The government is on pace for expenses that are $153 million higher than projected in the 2012 budget.

If you go back and review each budget since the NDP took office, you’ll find that almost every year the government spent more than budgeted. Like kids in a candy shop with their allowance burning a hole in their pocket, the Selinger government simply can’t control spending. The numbers we’ve just cited can’t be blamed on the economic slowdown from 2008, they can’t be blamed on the flood of 2011 or even on the government’s favourite scapegoat — former premier Gary Filmon.

Anecdotally the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a donation-based taxpayers’ watchdog organization, has heard of bureaucrats on the inside of government expressing shock with how easily the NDP government agrees to spending requests. It sounds like more often than not, spending requests get rubber-stamped without much in the way of pushback, such as scaling back a project or delaying non-urgent requests.

From the outside looking in, it certainly seems to be the case. Someone wants funding to expand the convention centre? Done. New stadium? Done. New polar bear house? Done. New park beside an existing park? Done. Money seems to be no object to this government.

Just don’t look at the province’s debt. This year, Manitoba was supposed to pass the $30-billion mark and end up around $30.1 billion. Yet now we’re now on track for $30.3 billion — $200 million higher than expected.

When the province releases its next budget in a couple weeks, just remember to ignore the government’s projections on future spending restraint. It has almost never happened and it’s highly doubtful the government is going to start sticking to its promises any time soon.

» Colin Craig is the Prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 25, 2014

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It’s great this year’s provincial deficit is not as bad as the government’s current budget expected.

The booster class that cheers the NDP government no matter what it does must have let out a big sigh of relief when it heard that news.

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It’s great this year’s provincial deficit is not as bad as the government’s current budget expected.

The booster class that cheers the NDP government no matter what it does must have let out a big sigh of relief when it heard that news.

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