Critics say tax cuts don’t create deficits

– Very few programs are safe from government’s review as it looks to cut spending, says Finance Minister Victor Boudreau.

Boudreau won’t reveal any programs or services that might be cut but said the provincial government doesn’t have a long list of programs that can’t be touched.

“There’s very few of those. We’ve pretty much been looking at everything,” he said.

Boudreau has been warning of program reductions and large deficits for the past few months, stressing money needs to be found to fund the roughly $100 million of tax cuts planned for the March budget.

During a speech on Monday he announced New Brunswick will likely face a deficit of roughly $500 million next year.

But critics say overspending — not tax cuts — are partly to blame to for the pending deficits.

“Research strongly indicates that tax relief can have a strong impact on government revenue,” said Kevin Gaudet, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. “That just is what the research and history indicates: you provide meaningful tax relief and government revenue goes up.”

Boudreau acknowledged he’s said tax cuts will help grow the economy, but said there will be some short-term pain.

“The intent obviously is to help us grow the economic pie but that doesn’t happen overnight.”

Cabinet has created a number of committees to review all programs.

“We’re looking at everything in an effort to try and come up with sufficient savings,” said Boudreau.

Boudreau is refusing to offer any examples of programs that might be cut or trimmed.

He also refused to say how government will be able to rein-in health and education spending despite growing demands for services.

“When you look at health and education and post-secondary and social development these are the bulk of the budget,” he said. “Those are the ones we have to take a closer look at to see if there’s ways of either saving money or not filling vacancies or doing away with a particular program or scaling it back or offering it in a different way.”

Charles Cirtwill, executive vice-president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said there are some easy targets for cuts.

The Liberals should sell NB Liquor and NB Power, he said.

Government could sell the assets for a profit and continue to collect taxes from the private sector companies that take over the operations, said Cirtwill.

“Those are two quick hits,” he said.

Boudreau is dropping the past practice of holding a variety of pre-budget consultation meetings open to the general public. Instead, he’s going to host two forums with representatives from business groups, anti-poverty groups, seniors, municipalities and others.

The meetings are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 16 in Bathurst and Feb. 20 in Fredericton.

Individual New Brunswickers can visit the government’s website and email Boudreau their suggestions.

Boudreau said he will also meet with union leaders. Government is committed to honouring collective agreements but needs the civil service to help meet the challenges, he said.

Tom Mann, executive director of the New Brunswick Union, said he welcomes the opportunity to meet with Boudreau.

There are plenty of ways to find savings within government without slashing programs, he said.

“We realize the province is under strain and we welcome the opportunity to sit down and present our views on programs that can be retooled, refined. Some programs might be outdated and those resources can be reallocated,” he said.