Higgs must end 'spending binge,' taxpayers group warns

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is urging Finance Minister Blaine Higgs to work quickly to control the provincial government's spending.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the provincial plane should be sold

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is being urged by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to work quickly to control the provincial government’s spending.

Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the provincial government’s debt has jumped significantly since 2006-07.

"It's an unprecedented spending binge. What we really want to see is the province get its house in order so that they can move into the future," he said.

Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the New Brunswick government must control its spending. (CBC)

"There are lots of opportunities that face New Brunswick to take advantage of that we can’t possibly do if we are still caught in this spiral of big spending governments."

New Brunswick’s auditor general has also warned the Alward government about its string of budget deficits and its mounting debt level.

The province’s debt is now more than $10 billion. Auditor General Kim MacPherson said in December the province’s debt has grown by $3.3 billion, or roughly 60 per cent since 2007.

The Progressive Conservative government had promised in the last election campaign to balance the provincial budget by 2014. But that commitment was not reiterated in the throne speech in November.

Lacey said he is encouraged by the finance minister’s plans to concentrate on spending reduction to bring the deficit and provincial debt under control.

But he said the provincial government should consider selling off Crown-owned assets, such as NB Liquor or the provincial plane.

Lacey said getting rid of the government plane would not save a lot of money, but it would be an important symbolic gesture.

"It is a point of principle. The principle being that at a time when we are experiencing real fiscal problems and a lot of people are tightening their belts, why does a province still have a wasteful government jet that wastes millions of dollars a year flying around our politicians when provinces the size of New Brunswick no longer have a plane," Lacey said.

Higgs planned to save $10 million in 2012-13 by selling Crown assets, such as the government plane.

Pre-budget meetings starting

Lacey’s comments come in advance of the finance minister’s upcoming round of pre-budget consultations.

The upcoming meetings — which start on Jan. 24 in Saint John and end on Feb. 7 in Fredericton — will give New Brunswickers a chance to express their views on how the budget should be crafted.

Finance ministers are required by the Fiscal Responsibility and Balanced Budget Act to hold annual pre-budget consultations.

The provincial economy has been sputtering of late. The last quarterly financial projection suggested the province’s deficit could hit $356 million, which is almost twice as much as had been forecasted in March.

The province’s unemployment rate is also still over 11 per cent.

Lacey said the provincial government also has to look at the pay and benefits for civil servants.

"Employee benefits since [2006-07] has gone up about 23 per cent, according to numbers from the auditor general," he said.