18 March 2015

The Endless Supply of Sacred Cows 2015 #nlpoli

On the first day of the session in the House of Assembly, the finance minister tabled an interim supply bill for slightly more than $2.7 billion.

Supply is the word the use in the House of Assembly for money the government will use to run things. Interim supply is an amount to tide things over from the start of the new fiscal business on April 1 until the formal budget bill gets passed sometime later on.

The size of the interim supply bill is a pretty good indicator of how much money the government will want to spend over the whole year.

supply amounts

The dark blue chunk on the bottom is the interim supply voted for each fiscal year.  The lighter blue bit on the top is the amount voted in the main supply bill and the two stack up to give you roughly how much the government spent over all.  The numbers are billions of dollars.

The light blue chunk on top of the 2015 number is an average of the supply voted from 2008 to 2014. Take a look at it.  Notice that it is not dramatically lower than the amount voted in the main supply bill since 2010.  That fits with the interim supply vote, which has been more than $2.6 billion every year since 2010.  In 2010 it wasn’t much lower, coming in at $2.4 billion.

We won’t know exactly what the budget for the current year is until we get the budget speech and the estimates some time in late April.  But governments being creatures of habit as they are,  we can probably get a good idea of where things will go by looking at where things have been.

Not only that, but the crowd currently running things, decided about two or three years ago that they’d be sticking to the current spending amounts. They knew there’d be deficits as oil prices moved up or down on their own. This year was just a bigger drop then they imagined.  That’s all.  Otherwise, they seem like a kinda steady state bunch.  No big shifts and changes.

And if that wasn’t enough for you to start thinking that maybe the government won’t be slicing hugely into spending this year of an election (maybe), then look at what Premier Paul Davis said in the House during Question Period on Tuesday.  Davis said that “in speaking engagements that I have participated in, I encouraged people f Newfoundland and Labrador to participate in the Budget consultation process. I threw out a number of statements, commentaries, and discussions that would be beneficial to have during that Budget consultation process.”

No big plans.  Just some ideas he tossed out for people to think about.

One of those was the question about private business. What role does private business play in the delivery of programs and services in Newfoundland and Labrador? Is there a larger role or a different role that public service – private service, sorry, should provide?

If we look at currently what happens in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have numerous examples where there are partnerships of private business who participate in the delivery of programs and services throughout the Province, Mr. Speaker. What I said was, as part of the consultation process, let's have a discussion about that, and is there a bigger role.

Davis specifically mentioned pharmacies and personal care homes when he spoke to reporters after Question Period.  As much as anything else, that was a poke at Dwight Ball, a pharmacist, whose personal business interests include personal care homes. The sense of the whole thing was a whole lot less ominous and whole lot more political theatre than before. 

Part of that may have been due to the fact it was in the House of Assembly.  But then again, we have to consider that – for all the noise early on – the timing of the budget for late April or early May or even the slight delay with the budget “consultations” isn’t all that unusual.

Now over on the political left, they’ve been going apeshit since Davis first started talking about privatisation.  NAPE started running ads on the radio.  CUPE’s Wayne Lucas has fried a few more blood vessels as he rails against sharing public sector services with the private sector. And the new co-leader of the union’s political front has been slashing away at any idea of cuts to anything in government.

All of that is both hysterical and predictable.  The gang on the left are way more reactionary than revolutionary or progressive.  Even the folks at The Independent have decided to substitute something – speculation?  ideology?   - for common sense in the wild rant against whatever the hell it is they think is going on.

But when you look at everything else,  you do have to wonder what the Conservatives will really do with the budget.  So far,  they haven’t really said much of anything.Their history is to talk tough and then do nothing.  So far they have been pretty much right on track.  Meanwhile, the only screaming has been coming from the sacred-cow herders. 

Maybe that’s another good reason to step back and look closely at what is going on. As bad as things are with the provincial government’s finances,  there’s actually nothing different about 2015 than about any other year for the past five or six.