Planning for the next budget
Pre-budget consultation looks to balance efficient spending with economic growth
The 2017-18 provincial budget will once again need to face the realities of a low revenue stream linked to a downturn in the price of oil. Government is once again talking about the need to create efficiencies, and attendees of last Thursday’s pre-budget consultation in Harbour Grace had the opportunity to talk about that and a host of other things.
A year ago, the provincial government was keen on finding ways to more efficiently serve Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. At the prebudget consultation last week in Harbour Grace, the news was much the same.
Once again, there’s a hefty projected deficit on the horizon, with the one for this current fiscal year estimated to be around $1.5 billion. Talk last Thursday at the SPLASH Centre in Harbour Grace for the lone consultation in Trinity-Conception-Placentia area centered around looking at making the cost of services sustainable, job creation and getting the most out of every dollar spent.
With just over 20 people in attendance beyond government staffers and Trinity-Conception MHAs Steve Crocker and Pam Parsons, there were plenty of ideas bandied about. On the topic of making government agencies and departments more efficient, it was suggested government as a whole needs to be more accountable.
One person said there’s a collective responsibility for unsustainable spending in Newfoundland and Labrador, with some departments privy to massive increases over the years with little in the way of net value to show for it.
Streamlining the civil sector instead of raising fees and taxes was one recommendation on the table. Another person said that although we might be in a state where provincial infrastructure is unaffordable, government should not give up on essential items like roads.
On support for the private sector and job creation, additional support for small businesses was identified as a need, with the possibility of an agency serving as a one-stop shop for potential entrepreneurs suggested.
Taking into account the expertise of people working within government, creating more connections with the private sector was thrown out there as an option to help matters.
By focusing on growth industries, government could also look to steer young people toward training opportunities in fields where there’s a demand for workers. Red tape was another issue brought up.
The challenge of serving a small population over a large geographic area was the next topic of discussion. All groups spent time talking about the need for small towns to look at regionalization as a potential problem solver in this regard. This lead to discussion of unincorporated areas and the need for all property owners to contribute equally when it comes to taxes.
Technology was mentioned as a tool to address geographic challenges, with opportunities out there to increase its use for connecting people needing education or health-related services.
The free-for-all question of whether there were any additional ideas on how government can achieve better outcomes from its spending inspired lots of talk. One person wondered whether government should be so focused on the decreasing the bottom line if it’s at the expense of a more educated population, healthier lives and public safety.
In what was perhaps a fitting final word for the night, another said if a consultation like the one held last Thursday is meant to have meaning, government must do its best to truly listen.
A couple of dozen folks came out for last Thursday’s pre-budget consultation in Harbour Grace at the SPLASH Centre.