Consultant questions NDP governments funding prepayment to N.S. universities

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX A consultant has questioned the Dexter government's decision to advance next year's funding to Nova Scotia universities.
The NDP added $341 million in 2010-11 funding to the current year's budget, and that amount constitutes the biggest chunk of the projected $525-million deficit.
"We would prefer that the prepayment not have happened," Shannon MacDonald, Deloitte's Atlantic practice managing partner, told the legislature's public accounts committee Wednesday.
MacDonald told the committee that it seems the New Democrats have continued the pattern of the previous Tory government. Her report to government said it would be prudent to avoid one-time outlays or prepayments for a recurring expenditure like university assistance.
"I would like to see them go back to the old way of doing it, but we've pointed out to them when they do that, there's going to be some complexities around that."
Liberal finance critic Leo Glavine said the NDP used the prepayment for political reasons, to pump up the deficit when they could blame the Tories for the state of the books. He said the NDP also added to the restructuring and land purchase budgets, further driving up the deficit.
Glavine said he thinks the New Democrats are getting ready to play hardball with the universities, and he is concerned that lower amounts of funding would lead to higher tuitions.
Finance Minister Graham Steele has said the prepayment to universities fulfils obligations under a memorandum of understanding, and the payout will allow the province to get back to single-year funding.
The Deloitte report found that without changes in government spending, declining revenue would lead the province to a $1.3-billion deficit in 2012-13, and the net direct debt would be up to more than $16 billion by then.
Tory Cecil Clarke said the NDP tried to suggest his government had been cooking the books, but MacDonald said she didn't find anything amiss.
The NDP promised in last spring's election campaign to get an audit done to determine the true state of the province's finances. Deloitte's work was more of an analysis, MacDonald said.
The work cost about $100,000. MacDonald said the fee was lowered because Deloitte wanted to help the government.

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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