Highway tolls are back on the table in New Brunswick as the provincial deficit continues to grow far beyond what was forecast.

In the past, the ruling Conservatives have said the cost of collecting highway tolls might defeat their purpose as a deficit-reduction weapon.


Brunswick Finance Minister Blaine Higgs, shown before presenting the budget last March, blames much of the growing deficit on reduced revenues from personal income tax, lotteries and liquor sales. (David Smith/Canadian Press)

But after two quarterly reports showing an out-of-control deficit, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is thinking about tolls again.

"We looked at it seriously on the first-quarter results, thinking we have to look at every revenue," Higgs said Thursday after the second-quarter report was released. "So the analytical work is being done as we speak, and some of it has been done already."

Higgs's goal this year was a $448 million deficit, but the latest figures project it will be almost $100 million more than that.

The deficit for 2011-2012 is now expected to be $545.7 million, an increase of $31.4 million from the first-quarter projection and almost $97 million from what was budgeted.

Although most government departments reined in overspending in the second quarter, revenues from income tax, lotteries and liquor sales fell short of projections.

Higgs also said the province will be more than $10 billion in debt by the end of this fiscal year — a situation he called unacceptable and unsustainable.

Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault criticized the government’s performance, but the finance  critic wouldn’t say what taxes he'd raise or what spending he'd cut.

"Before you want to to talk about taxes, show me you're serious about growing the economy, and right now they haven't proven that to me."