By Mary Moszynski
As appeared on page A1


The Liberals will table their first budget later today following months of warnings that the province faces some tough financial decisions.

Finance Minister Victor Boudreau confirmed he will table a balanced budget but admitted there wasn’t much “wiggle room.”

“There’s no question that there were tough decisions that had to be made but we were elected to govern and governing means making tough decisions sometimes,” he said.

The Grant Thornton report, released prior to Christmas, warned government faced a $400-million deficit if the Liberals didn’t rein-in spending.

Today’s budget will lay the groundwork for his government’s agenda, said Boudreau. The minister was tight-lipped on the details of his financial plan, but it’s expected the budget will continue to focus on the Liberal’s so-called “three-Es” of education, economy and energy.
Boudreau has warned he may be forced to tighten the purse strings of other departments in order to table a balanced budget.

“We’ve taken charge of the situation. We’ve looked at the expenditure side, we’ve looked at the revenue side and we will be tabling a balanced budget tomorrow,” he said, adding “nobody wants to see government go into deficits again.”

Boudreau said the budget will set the tone for government’s goal of the province being economically self-sufficient by 2026. The Grant Thornton report sparked debate in the legislature as Opposition leader Jeannot Volpé insisted his government faced the same financial challenges but were able to balance the books.

“They had a lot better province to take over than what we had in 1999,” he said.

Keith Ashfield, Conservative New Maryland MLA, refuted Boudreau’s claim that the Tories left the books in bad shape.

“That’s totally untrue,” he said, adding the Liberals have gone on a post-election spending spree.

Boudreau’s warnings of tough decisions have led to rumblings of possible tax increases and spending cuts.

But Ian Munro, director of research for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said Boudreau should follow his predecessor’s footsteps by offering across-the-board tax relief. Unlike the former Tory government, the Liberals have endorsed targeted tax breaks for businesses or individuals rather than broad-based tax cuts.

That’s a mistake, said Munro.

“The problem is it puts the government in the old position of trying to pick winners and I don’t think the government has ever proven itself as being particularly adept at that.”

Corporate income tax breaks make the province more competitive and boost business development, creating more jobs and keeping young New Brunswickers home, said Munro.

Much of the budget might rely on what the province expects to receive from the federal government in equalization payments. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is revamping the equalization formula and Alberta has recently said it will no longer object to the plan.

The new equalization formula takes into account resource revenues, as long as Ottawa makes sure the province gets its fair share. Alberta, along with Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, has objected to a 2006 report recommending poorer provinces get an extra $900 million a year.

Boudreau won’t be sporting the traditional new shoes that have become a staple for finance ministers on budget day.

Instead he’s opting for a new shirt and tie.

“I tend to be tough on my shoes and these shoes are quite comfortable. I didn’t want to replace them,” he said.


With files from Canadian Press