Labour’s Bud­get is Na­tional-lite

The Southland Times - - National News / Budget 2018 - Tracy Watkins tracy.watkins@stuff.co.nz

The cover page of Labour’s first Bud­get in more than a decade might be red but in tone it was pale blue. The only sur­prise was the size of the sur­plus, at $3.1 bil­lion, and there was noth­ing else in the Bud­get to over­shadow that num­ber – which is ex­actly as Labour would have wanted.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Grant Robert­son was al­most chan­nelling for­mer Na­tional fi­nance min­is­ter Bill English when he re­peat­edly re­ferred to the Bud­get as fis­cally cau­tious.

The sur­plus leans in part on a wind­fall gain from ex­tra tax rev­enue since last year’s pre­elec­tion fis­cal up­date. Trea­sury is pro­ject­ing that to con­tinue into the fu­ture.

But Robert­son has also fallen on the con­ser­va­tive side of spend­ing, even at the risk of look­ing miserly in ar­eas such as law and or­der where the prom­ise of 1800 more po­lice has shrunk.

Schools will also feel like they could have done bet­ter, given Labour’s rhetoric on an un­der­funded ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

There are few sur­prises, mean­while, bar­ring the ex­ten­sion of free GP vis­its to un­der 14-yearolds. And health is the big win­ner, as pre­dicted, with the bulk of the ex­tra spend­ing go­ing on hos­pi­tals and pri­mary health.

But in this case the sum of the whole re­ally is big­ger than all its parts.

Fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity was Robert­son’s word of the day and if he said it once, he said it re­peat­edly.

Yes­ter­day’s Bud­get tells only part of the story, of course.

Most of the big ticket items were an­nounced prior to Christ­mas, in the 100 day Bud­get, in­clud­ing a whop­ping $5.5b fam­i­lies pack­age.

The other big spendups prior to Christ­mas in­cluded free ter­tiary study, $2b for the Ki­wiBuild and other flag­ship pro­grammes such as the $60 a week first start pay­ment for new­borns.

And de­spite the lack of fan­fare, the Gov­ern­ment is on track to spend an ex­tra $24b over the next four years, which is an in­crease of 5 per cent in to­tal core Crown ex­penses over the next four years com­pared with Na­tional.

But the gov­ern­ment will also reap an ex­tra $20b in rev­enue over the same pe­riod, mean­ing Robert­son still has plenty to salt away for sub­se­quent years.

That will give Labour a lot more room to move in 2020, when the next elec­tion rolls around, though there will be pres­sure on Robert­son well be­fore then to re­spond to build­ing de­mand from nurses and teach­ers for more money.

For now, Robert­son will be happy to wear crit­i­cism that his first Bud­get is Na­tional-lite.

The only sur­prise was the size of the sur­plus, at $3.1 bil­lion, and there was noth­ing else in the Bud­get to over­shadow that num­ber – which is ex­actly as Labour would have wanted.

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