29 November 2005

Rain Man needs some help deciding

Loyola Sullivan, known to some as the Rain Man for his ability to rattle off figures like ""about a hundred million dollars. uh huh. a hundred million dollars" without really saying anything, got some big help today from auditor general John Noseworthy.

The AG made some really obvious but sensible suggestions about the uses to which the offshore revenue windfall could be put. They are obvious to anyone except, maybe, the Rain Man.

Noseworthy noted that as it currently sits in the bank, the offshore cash is earning interest at a rate of about $60 million annually. Putting that cash toward the unfunded pension liabilities would produce an additional $90 million (or a total of $150 million per year) than can be directed to program spending or used to pay down the long-term debt.

In a media scrum outside the legislature, a grinning Sullivan said he has made recommendations to cabinet on how to dispose of "surplus cash" the government may have on hand. Truthfully, it is hard to know what Sullivan has to grin about.

First of all, he should have developed a plan for debt and deficit reduction - and announced it - long before now.

Second, his talk of "surplus cash" makes a mockery of his own announcement within the past few weeks that he had eliminated the current deficit and produce a surplus - overall - of less than $2.0 million. Sullivan's previous statement made it appear as though the cash surplus this year of well over $300 million by year end - had already been allocated and spent.

His comments today confirm the point made on the Bond Papers that in fact, Sullivan had erroneously hinted that he had no surplus on a cash basis. Face it, if there was no surplus cash - or very little - then there'd be no need for a cabinet paper.

Third, there is every sign that other cabinet ministers including the Premier have covetous eyes on the offshore cash. And that is the truly alarming prospect, as noted ">here previously. We will have considerable pressure to spend our future coming from within the provincial government. It might be too late for Loyola Sullivan to take good advice and do what is in the long term best interest of the province.

His fascination with numbers and decimal points seems to have overshadowed his ability to develop a sound plan and get on with the real job of a cabinet minister - making decisions.

The rain Man got some free advice today.

He should take advice from John Noseworthy and get on with the job of being finance minister...

rather than patting himself on the back when it suits his purpose and trotting out large numbers to frighten people when that suits his purpose.

Then Sullivan would have something to grin about.

And so would the rest of us.