5 things to watch for in Nova Scotia's budget

The NDP government is promising to hand down a balanced budget on Thursday.

Provincial election expected sometime this year

The NDP government is promising to hand down a balanced budget on Thursday.

The NDP government is promising to hand down a balanced budget on Thursday.

The December fiscal update showed the deficit was $277 million, but Premier Darrell Dexter and Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald have fervently said they will achieve what other provinces have failed to do, and balance the books.

Here are five storylines to watch on Thursday:

1. Is the budget really balanced?

That’s the big question everyone is asking, especially after the auditor general slammed the government for reporting the wrong numbers in 2012.

The budget deficit should have been $27 million more than forecasted.

In 1999, Russell MacLellan's Liberal government touted their budget as balanced, except for a $600 million pot of money for what was called the "Health Investment Fund."

At the time, the Progressive Conservatives sided with the NDP to defeat that budget and took Nova Scotians to the polls.

Tory John Hamm won that election to become premier.

2 .How did they do it?

If it's balanced, skeptics and supporters alike will be looking at the fine print.

There's no expected windfall coming from Ottawa. In the 2010-2011 budget, a one-time adjustment helped the NDP end the year with a $585.4 million surplus.

Cigarette taxes went up in New Brunswick, and there’s speculation Nova Scotia's government will be looking under seat cushions for money to balance the books. An increase in so-called sin taxes could be possible.

3. Any election goodies?

This is expected to be an election year, and that's traditionally the time when governments dole out funding, like bumping up their paving budgets.

The Canadian Diabetes Association says Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are the only two provinces without an insulin pump program (CBC)

The government might bow to pressure and begin funding insulin pumps for children. There was an oblique reference in the speech from the throne last week.

"In this session of the legislature, the Minister of Health and Wellness will detail the government's next steps to improve children's health care, recognizing the high priority that Nova Scotians place on better preventive care, particularly for children with chronic diseases," said Lt.-Gov. John James Grant.

4. Where are the cuts?

To balance the budget next year, the province will need to find $277 million to eliminate the deficit. Last week the government bumped up 1,400 fees by 5.8 per cent, but that only added $11.6 million to the provincial coffers. Without further increasing revenues the province must find that money in program or service cuts.

5. What is the plan to pay off the debt?

Nova Scotia is expected to end the 2011-2012 year with a net debt of $13.3 billion.

The debt will continue to grow every year until 2015-2016, the last year the province has a forecast.

The new numbers will be in the budget on Thursday.

The last time the debt decreased was in 2010-2011 when the province posted a surprise surplus.

With files from Jean Laroche and Amy Smith