Higgs says little opposition to boosting revenues

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs concluded his pre-budget tour on Thursday night, reinforcing his demand to halt the slide further into deficit.

Provincial deficit now projected at $411M, up from $183M in March

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs outlined the latest deficit figures in his final pre-budget meeting 1:31

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs concluded his pre-budget tour on Thursday night, reinforcing his demand to halt the slide further into deficit.

Higgs announced earlier on Thursday the province’s projected deficit had soared to $411 million, well above the $183 million that was estimated in last March’s budget.

The deficit is continuing to grow as revenues continue to plummet.

Higgs struck a sobering tone during his final pre-budget public consultation meeting, as he talked about the province’s fiscal challenges.

The finance minister said people are receptive to the idea that the provincial government must raise revenue.

"Generally through the tour I have thus far ... there are pockets but there isn’t any real negativity around the fact that something has to change on revenue beat," he said.

Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the Alward government should avoid raising taxes. (CBC)

Premier David Alward said earlier on Thursday that he's been surprised at how many New Brunswickers seem open to the idea of higher taxes.

Alward said many people seem to accept that the provincial government may have to increase how much it collects from them.

"People are talking about it and people are giving us ideas on what they think, and for me it's been a bit surprising, quite frankly, I think there's a recognition of the challenges we face," he said.

"There's also a recognition that services are important to us and we need to find ways to deal with it."

The New Brunswick government is required to hold a referendum if it wants to create a new tax, increase the HST or impose highway tolls.

Alward said recently that it is feasible to hold a referendum on hiking taxes before the 2014 provincial election.

During the pre-budget meetings, Higgs has floated several potential ways to raise money.

The provincial government would receive $270 million in additional revenue by raising the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points or $30 million if it introduced highway tolls.

If the provincial government rescinded by the personal and corporate income tax cuts made by the former Shawn Graham government, an additional $320 million and $25 million, respectively, would flow into provincial coffers.

The idea of a health levy, similar to Ontario and British Columbia, was also floated during the pre-budget tour. That additional charge could reap $115 million in new cash for the government.

Kevin Lacey, an official with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the Alward government should avoid increasing income or consumption taxes.

"The problem in our economy is not that our taxpayers are not taxed enough. So we do not want to see the finance minister go back to taxpayer and get more money from them for problems that were created in Fredericton," he said.

Lacey said he would rather see government expenditures cut to tackle the deficit than increase taxes.