© JEFF HARPER/METRO
Liberal leader Stephen MacNeil
HALIFAX - The NDP government has released a balanced budget for 2013-14, but opposition leaders say the party has found a way around owning up to a real deficit.
According to the budget, the province estimates it will spend $9.5 billion next year and keep a $16.4 million surplus by increasing user fees, raising taxes on tobacco, income taxes, and slashing departmental spending by $86 million.
“It’s up to the auditor general … to test these assumptions, who says ‘yes these revenues estimates are absolutely reasonable,” Premier Darrell Dexter said to reporters Thursday.
Revenue from provincial taxes is estimated to bring in $233.6 million more than last year’s forecast, and helped slay the $300 million deficit the government had been working under.
Dexter said it makes sense that Nova Scotia will be collecting more income tax because more citizens will soon be heading to jobs with Deep Panuke, the Irving shipbuilding contract, offshore exploration, or IBM.
“They make more money, the economy grows,” Dexter said.
But Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the budget is a “hollow victory” that is really a deficit because of the $34 million pre-paid amount for two universities.
“Without that, we would be in an $18 million deficit,” McNeil said.
The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and Acadia University requested funding in the past few years after budget estimates had went through, but Dexter said the government has been working with the schools to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
McNeil also said there’s also no way the economy can grow fast enough to meet the NDP’s estimates.
“No economist has suggested it’s going to grow up to the rate that this government suggests. No one is suggesting we’re going to get that $145 million in income tax,” McNeil said.
Leader Jamie Baillie of the PC party said he has “serious questions” about the balanced aspect of the budget, including the prepaid issue and promises of future savings.
“There are actually some accounting changes, the bottom line effect of which may well be bigger than the surplus as a whole,” Baillie added.
“Even in the assumptions they don’t see any new jobs being created … and as long as that’s the case, it’s not balanced.”
HALEY RYAN - METRO HALIFAX