18 February 2009

Math problems at provincial finance

That 60 cycle hum you hear is not the turbines spooling up on the Lower Churchill.


That noise would be the intense spin – torque would be a better word – the provincial government is putting on its infrastructure announcement this snowy Wednesday. 

The reason for the announcement:  the provincial pollster – CRA  - is in the field.  With the nurses taking a strike vote and with a certain amount of anxiety out there about how bad the budget will be, the government party must have felt the need to make it appear that something good was happening in the budget to keep those polling numbers high.

Note the word “appear” in that sentence.

This is all about appearance.  If the provincial government actually wanted to do something, then the legislature would be called back and the new budget would be introduced.  They could run with it tomorrow since the thing is settled and has been for weeks. 

If it wasn’t about appearance, a bunch of cabinet ministers wouldn’t be sent to Labrador to announce things already announced.  The hospital in Labrador West is now officially the most announced project that never appears in provincial political history.  The Lower Churchill still holds the record for most costly non-project.

And if they had been really smart, then no one would have been proudly pointing out that all this was just re-cycling old news, as natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale did with CBC last night or one of the political gaggle did at the news conference in Goose Bay.

This budget announcement is apparently not about math.

We are told that infrastructure spending will be about $800 million.

We are told it is a record.

We are told that:

The $800 million the Provincial Government will spend on infrastructure in the 2009-10 fiscal year represents a jump of $285 million – well over 50 per cent – from the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Last year’s “unprecedented” infrastructure spending was valued at $673 million.  An increase of “well over” 50% of that amount would put infrastructure spending this year at $1.009 billion.

If $285 million – the size of the increase – is actually more than 50% of last year’s spending, then we have discovered something very interesting.  Despite announcing $673 million in “unprecedented” capital spending last year, the provincial government may have spent a not altogether unusual amount of somewhere around $500 million. That’s about 25% less than announced.

Based on that precedent, capital spending in 2009 will actually be around $600 million, not the $800 million torqued on Wednesday.

And it’s not like this is the first time something coming from provincial finance didn’t add up. Different figures keep appearing from Jerome Kennedy’s department all the time.  Like Equalization.  Numbers magically appeared all through that fiasco a couple of weeks ago that had never been seen before in public, including in the province’s audited financial statements.

Lucky for the finance crowd and their government publicity machine they can still hypnotise some people with the magic of PowerPoint slides.