Higgs to table pre-election budget

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs will table his fourth provincial budget in Fredericton today, setting the stage for the provincial election, which is less than eight months away.

Alward government expected to target deficit, but won't balance budget before Sept. 22 election

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs will table his fourth provincial budget in Fredericton today, setting the stage for the provincial election, which is less than eight months away.

The budget is expected to take aim at New Brunswick's growing debt and deficit in an attempt by the Alward government to show itself as a prudent financial manager, worthy of being given a second term.

But it will fall short of Higgs' original goal of eliminating the deficit by this year.

Although Higgs has managed to cut the growth of spending to zero in many departments, with the flat economy, tax revenues haven't grown enough.

The deficit Higgs forecast last year has ballooned by $60 million to about $538 million.

"I think New Brunswickers already feel this government's lost credibility on the financial front, that its numbers have never matched its actual spending and so forth," said Michael Camp, who watches politics and teaches journalism at St. Thomas University.

"If you look at the last few budgets, they've all given this indication that we're just around the corner to prosperity. And I think that's the impression that the government will want to leave with this budget. But we haven't rounded that corner yet. Seems to be an awfully long corner," said Camp.

"And there's very little good news New Brunswickers are looking at right now. So the minister's options, I think, are limited. Damage control. That's what this budget will be about."

Higgs has admitted publicly he would like to cut more, but that he hasn't been politically free to do so.

"Any finance minister would have had different views on how aggressive we can be. The premier on the other hand has to balance not only that priority, but all the other priorities in the system," Higgs has said.

CUPE's Danny Legere contends there may be other solutions, but Higgs didn't consult the public about them.

"The government decided not to hold its public pre-budget consultation meetings that we've seen for the last decade in this province — a consultation process where all New Brunswickers had the opportunity to speak directly to the finance ministers," Legere said.

Premier David Alward had committed to bringing the province's books back into balance during the 2010 election and had reaffirmed that promised in the 2012 budget.

But Higgs announced last year the deficit elimination goal would not be met before the next provincial election.

The government has not announced a new target date to balance the budget.

Higgs recently pleaded with all political parties, including his own, to avoid expensive campaign promises in this year's election.

"Let's agree amongst ourselves right now it won't be a bidding war. It'll be one where we realize this province cannot be tied to a number of promises that do not make sense."

New Brunswickers will head to the polls on Sept. 22.