20 April 2011

The unsustainable lightness of Tom Marshall

Tom Marshall keeps a tight grip on the provincial government’s purse strings.

He has to do that.

The damn things won’t stay that wide open on their own.

In presenting the provincial government’s budget to the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Marshall announced that the Conservative administration of Kathy Dunderdale would continue the practice of unsustainable public spending set under Dunderdale’s predecessor, Danny Williams.

Overall government spending will grow by 4.9%;  that’s about twice the rate of inflation. 

A windfall in oil prices directly attributable to turmoil in the Middle East helped to erase a forecast cash deficit of $959 million and turn it into a modest cash surplus of $133 million. (Estimates 2011 p. iv)

For the past two years, Marshall claimed the government’s profligate spending came from the need to spend cash to fuel an economic recovery

Now he’s got a different excuse:  we can afford it.  Marshall told reporters that the provincial economy was “sizzling”. That’s nonsense, of course.  The economy is actually becoming increasingly fragile and public spending is sustained by cash coming from a volatile source, namely oil. Marshall seems to know that just like he knows the public debt is something he should be reducing.

Oddly, Marshall never seems to do anything about it

Marshall forecast that the province’s net debt will increase in 2011, largely the result of continued growth in unfunded pension and benefits liabilities in the public service.

And that’s despite repeated warnings from the province’s auditor general among others.  In 2009 a provincial cabinet minister resigned unexpectedly citing concerns about unsustainable public spending.  Earlier this year, Auditor General John Noseworthy repeated the same concerns;  interestingly enough he did it in a report on Fiscal Year 2009, the same year Paul Oram left cabinet.

Two years later, the provincial government is still on the same path.

- srbp -