Band-aid bud­get

The Compass - - Editorial -

In the days be­fore Bud­get 2018, the pub­lic was al­ready be­ing primed for a “stay the course” kind of doc­u­ment. Noth­ing jar­ring, no big cuts or tax hikes, noth­ing to see here, folks.

Well, it’s cer­tainly a stay the course bud­get if you mean cer­tain ma­jor projects won’t be much fur­ther ahead in 2018 than they were af­ter Bud­get 2017.

A highly an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment for a re­place­ment for the Water­ford Hos­pi­tal turned into a com­mit­ment of $6.1 mil­lion for what’s be­ing called a “value-for-money” as­sess­ment and a “ser­vice re­design.” Pa­tients and staff will likely be star­ing out those vin­tage 1855 win­dows for some time to come. It’s worth not­ing the Tories first an­nounced the hos­pi­tal was be­ing re­placed in Bud­get 2011.

Ditto any ex­pec­ta­tion of a re­place­ment for the equally aged Her Majesty’s Pen­i­ten­tiary. In­stead, $300,000 has been set aside for ad­vanced plan­ning con­struc­tion and de­sign work that will - even­tu­ally, at some un­named point in the fu­ture - be man­i­fested as a mod­ern prison that will al­low in­mates to be­come more pro­duc­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

There’s $8 mil­lion to­wards the con­struc­tion of the “new” west coast re­gional hos­pi­tal - a fa­cil­ity that’s been in the works for more than a decade.

A 2007 story from The West­ern Star said of the cur­rent fa­cil­ity, “A sign on the build­ing warns the pub­lic to be­ware of fall­ing de­bris.”

At least there is tan­gi­ble progress be­ing made there, though it’s not ex­pected to be fin­ished till 2023.

There is $723.9 mil­lion bud­geted for Nal­cor “eq­uity in­vest­ments,” as well as $33.7 mil­lion for the Muskrat Falls in­quiry - an ex­pen­sive ex­er­cise to be sure, but nec­es­sary spend­ing to probe a megapro­ject that will keep on suck­ing up tax­pay­ers’ money for years to come.

In fair­ness to the gov­ern­ment, there were bright spots - more money for com­mu­nity based health care, a se­ri­ous in­ci­dent re­sponse team, roads and tourism, cap­i­tal works and im­mi­gra­tion, court up­grades and a drug treat­ment court.

All in all, it’s a main­te­nance bud­get of sorts - keep­ing things go­ing and not mak­ing any sud­den or dras­tic moves that would send the frag­ile pro­vin­cial econ­omy into a tail­spin. Gov­ern­ment has limited funds and seems to be spar­ing them along as best they can with­out the ma­jor dis­rup­tions of huge tax hikes or mas­sive job lay­offs.

But even though the gov­ern­ment seems to slowly be get­ting the mes­sage that we can’t count on oil money to keep the econ­omy lu­bri­cated, we are still highly re­liant on a volatile com­mod­ity.

Not only that, the bur­den of the prov­ince’s long-term debt is a very real prob­lem that no one should un­der­es­ti­mate, or ig­nore. It’s an ice­berg lurk­ing mostly be­neath the sur­face but it’s one upon which the prov­ince could run aground all too eas­ily should we take an­other se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial hit.

It’s time for se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions about what we can hon­estly af­ford and what we sim­ply can­not any longer.

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