OUR VIEW: Balanced budget masks skyrocketing debt

We say: It’s a mortgage against future fiscal sustainability

Finance Minister Mike de Jong and Premier Christy Clark are insisting the 2013/14 pre-election budget will be in the black despite the fact that this year’s budget is headed for a depressingly recalibrated deficit of $1.47 billion.

De Jong has said to achieve his 2013/14 surplus target “we’ve still got $200 million to $300 million of work to do.” However, most of the important budget-making choices have already been made behind the scenes. The finance minister already knows how he’s going to manage this accounting miracle. He just doesn’t want to talk about it.

And, when he drops the budget in February, the Legislature will be quickly adjourned for the launch of the election campaign. There will be no estimates debate to examine budget assumptions. Instead, what passes for budget scrutiny will be lost in the noise of campaign claims and counterclaims.

This budgetary dance is made more egregious by the current $15 million blitzkrieg of Jobs Plan advertising. If you make the mistake of turning on the evening TV news these days your reward is a take-no-prisoners sales pitch.

One of the advertisements blithely claims: “In this uncertain global economy … we’re balancing the budget by controlling spending.” In reality, the Liberals are almost certainly going to achieve an operational surplus with the help of tax increases embedded in a variety of measures from income tax adjustments to hikes in a variety of mandatory user fees.

What is most disturbing is the fact that while the government tries to keep us focused on the merits of a balanced operating budget our accumulated total debt is rocketing through the $60 billion threshold and shows no signs of abatement. This represents red ink for decades.

It is a mortgage against our future fiscal stability that has been growing at the rate of about $2 billion a year. That is the antithesis to “controlling spending.”

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