NB facing tough choices to pay down burgeoning debt: Olscamp
- With New Brunswick’s debt set to top $10 billion in 2012, nothing is off the table when it comes to finding ways to reduce spending.
Tantramar MLA Mike Olscamp said the provincial government is heavily committed to finding savings wherever they can in order to address the fiscal challenges burdening New Brunswick.
Olscamp said efficiencies are being sought throughout the system, from the top down, and nothing is sacred when it comes to the necessary cuts.
“There’s a culture that needs to be changed,” Olscamp said during a recent townhall style meeting he hosted at the civic centre in Sackville.
From top-level bureaucrats to civil servants to the everyday taxpayer, the culture he speaks of is one that pervades right through the system, he said, and changes will need to be made at every level to find economies significant enough to make a difference.
With not enough revenues coming in to pay the rising deficit rate in New Brunswick, Olscamp said there’s going to have to be some tough choices made in the next little while.
“We’re a province that is not bringing in any income,” he said. “And we simply can’t afford to drive a Cadillac on a Volkswagen budget.”
Already tough decisions are being made, said Olscamp, who noted that government departments have been asked to find 10 per cent savings within their budgets.
“So we’re starting to feel the pinch of that . .
But local resident Bill Evans isn’t convinced that the government is headed in the right direction when it comes to righting the economy.
Evans said instead of service cuts or higher user fees, the premier should be looking at reversing the personal income tax cuts, which were initiated by the previous Liberal government.
“The only progressive income tax,” he said.
Evans said the government’s “irresponsible” tax breaks have led to cuts that have “disproportionately hit poor people” the hardest.
“Why not put taxes back the way they were?”
But Olscamp argued that, although raising
is income tax is not off the table, the government wants to look at other options first.
“At the end of the day, a (election) promise was made not to raise taxes right away,” he said. “The premier is dedicated to finding efficiencies within the system first. We see an opportunity here to change the culture within government.”
The MLA said it won’t be something that happens overnight either.
“Do we have to change the way we do business? Yes. How fast can we do it? Well, we probably can’t cut the cord tomorrow, but we can start tweaking it.”
But several other residents on hand for last week’s meeting at the civic centre said the provincial government is not looking at the bigger picture when it comes to the future well-being of New Brunswickers.
Heather Patterson, for instance, pointed out that a recent closure of a health-care clinic in New Brunswick, one that encourages prevention measures and offers programs aimed at obesity and heart disease, is a short-sighted decision made by the government. She said wellness and prevention should be one of the top priorities amongst the health-care department. Residents also criticized the lack of support to trail organizations in the province, saying precedence is being given to motorized vehicles instead of walkers.
And they also suggested there needs to be greater promotion of groups like Tantramar’s Community-supported Agriculture (CSA) organization, which offers fresh local produce on a regular basis to area residents.
“How do we get governments to start thinking long-term?” asked Penny Mott
During the meeting, Olscamp also provided information to residents on the new property tax deferral program for seniors as well as the changes to the seniors’ co-pay prescription program.