Done deal

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial -

n Feb. 2 Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett was hav­ing a rough evening. Ben­nett was at a pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion at the Knights of Colum­bus hall on St. Clare Av­enue in St. John’s — three other con­sul­ta­tions were sched­uled to be held si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Grand Falls-Wind­sor, Clarenville and St. An­thony. There will be 11 ses­sions across the prov­ince.

The con­sul­ta­tions have be­come an an­nual tra­di­tion, and around 100 peo­ple gave their time and energy to show up at the St. John’s event, with sev­eral be­rat­ing the fi­nance min­is­ter for past gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions on taxes and fees, and oth­ers sug­gest­ing where cuts should be made.

You’d think at least some of the sug­ges­tions could be a help: af­ter all, the premier and Ben­nett have talked about the need to find $244 mil­lion in spend­ing cuts for this year. Ben­nett said as part of her pre­sen­ta­tion that there wouldn’t be tax in­creases this year — an in­di­ca­tion of some­thing we should all be aware of from the very be­gin­ning.

And that’s that the bud­get you think you are be­ing con­sulted on is pretty much al­ready done — so don’t ex­pect your words to carry much weight.

The bud­getary process is pretty much the same every year: in Novem­ber, or some­times as late as De­cem­ber, the gov­ern­ment sets its fis­cal pri­or­i­ties for the up­com­ing bud­get year, and sends that in­for­ma­tion out to de­part­ments who be­gin the line-by-line work of set­ting the up­com­ing bud­get. The broad de­ci­sions are usu­ally made by Jan­uary.

By the time Fe­bru­ary comes along, all of the macro bud­getary changes are set and, in the case of cut­backs, the de­part­ments are look­ing at the in­di­vid­ual po­si­tions that will be af­fected, and how those cuts will spi­ral out into other po­si­tions. Mem­bers of the House of Assem­bly might still make spe­cific cases for is­sues in their dis­tricts, and cab­i­net min­is­ters stick­han­dle pro­grams they want to de­fend or keep.

But tra­di­tion­ally, right now, around the be­gin­ning of Fe­bru­ary, is the time when min­is­ters and their se­nior bu­reau­crats are called to meet the fi­nance min­is­ter, se­nior staff and often the premier to de­fend their fi­nal de­part­men­tal bud­get sub­mis­sions.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be changes af­ter this point; there can be — and have been — changes right up un­til prac­ti­cally the day the bud­get is de­liv­ered. But those are out­liers. The writ­ing is on the wall, and more im­por­tantly, on the page for pretty much all of the up­com­ing bud­get.

You’re be­ing asked for in­put — at a date so late that it would be hard to even use.

Feel free to give your sug­ges­tions on what bud­getary di­rec­tion the prov­ince should take, even though, in all like­li­hood, those de­ci­sions have al­ready been made.

We have a cost-sav­ing idea for the gov­ern­ment — al­beit one that won’t save tons of money: stop this cha­rade, un­less you re­ally want ad­vice.

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