Friday, October 24, 2008

Brantford Expositor - Ontario, CA

Brantford Expositor - Ontario, CA

This perfect fiscal storm has been brewing for months.
Elementary teachers have been holding out on signing a new contract. This financial statement is like a big stick to get them to sign. How popular will teachers be if they strike at a time when everyone else is feeling the financial pain?
Worse, the public service is growing out of control. It's the monster that swallows our tax dollars.
While the private sector is growing only marginally, more and more people are joining the province's not-so-exclusive club of people making $100,000 on the public purse.

If the province wants to hold the line, the first place to start is with a freeze on pay increases on civil servants making $100,000 or more.
Instead, the first cuts will come with a delay in implementation of things like a dental plan for low income families and a delay in hiring more nurses.

What a mockery Wednesday's statement made of Duncan's much-ballyhooed plan to divvy up budget surpluses among municipalities. Remember when he announced that shell game back in March?
He told us any time there was more than an $800 million surplus, instead of paying down the province's massive $169-billion total accumulated debt as was the law, only the first $600 million would go to pay down the debt. The rest would be distributed to the province's 445 municipalities based on population. The amount to be allocated is capped at $2 billion.
Back then, Duncan estimated the minimum amount that would be allocated would be $200 million.
Oops. Now we have a $500 million deficit.
Back then, local politicians tripped over themselves to gush over Duncan's hypothetical cash windfall.
Better not hold your breath getting that pothole fixed. And better check the bridge before you drive over it, fellas.

He said the government wouldn't try to spend its way out of the recession. That's a relief. Then again, you could make a very strong argument they have pretty well spent their way into it.

He did acknowledge, though, the importance of infrastructure investments, "which create jobs and improve competitiveness for tomorrow."
Presumably that means some of the big ticket transit programs are still on the table. That's good. There's no need to panic on projects that benefit everyone.

You have to ask: Is this just the thin end of the wedge? Is this half-billion-dollar deficit truly manageable? Or is Duncan setting us up for more bad news in his budget next spring?
What we need is a little fiscal austerity here.
Duncan is fond of using the word "prudent." His budget projections are "prudent." His fiscal policy is "prudent."
Well, I had a cat called Prudence once. She met a nasty end when she carelessly -- and imprudently -- ran in front of a car.

The point is even though I called my cat Prudence, she still did foolish things.
I have a horrid feeling Duncan's economic statement is a bit like that. He can call it prudent if he wants. It won't make a lick of difference when we are all so much financial road-kill.
Christina Blizzard covers Queen's Park for Sun Media. She can be reached at christina. blizzard@tor.

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