New Brunswick

Projected deficit drops $35M in latest fiscal update

The New Brunswick government now projects a deficit of $156 million this fiscal year, down $35 million from the original estimate.

Liberals say projected deficit down to $156M, but PCs see decrease as drop in bucket compared to tax pile

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers spoke Friday on the province's first-quarter fiscal results. (Pat Richard/CBC)

The New Brunswick government now projects a deficit of $156 million this fiscal year, down $35 million from the original estimate.

The change was announced Friday in first-quarter fiscal results, which showed a $10 million increase in revenue and a drop of $25 million in spending.

Originally, the Liberal government projected a deficit of $191 million for 2017-18.

While the numbers were generally positive for the government, Finance Minister Cathy Rogers continued to strike a cautious note.

"We are early in the fiscal year and therefore we will closely monitor the economy and revenue developments and we'll continue to manage our spending," Rogers said at a news conference.

The government pledged in the budget to eliminate the deficit by the 2020-21 fiscal year.

While the update gives the Liberals more breathing room to reach that goal, Rogers stopped short of committing to an earlier-than-expected return to a balanced budget.

"If we can continue to meet or beat our targets and bring [the ] deficit down to a balanced budget sooner, that certainly would be a good thing," she said.

Opposition reaction

Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macconald says the $35 million reduction in the projected deficit is a 'drop in the bucket' compared with tax revenues. (Pat Richard/CBC)

Opposition parties weren't as impressed with the numbers.

Brian Macdonald, the MLA for Fredericton West-Hanwell, questioned whether the Liberals could've reached the lower deficit without taxation.

"Let's not forget the fact they've ripped more than a billion dollars out of this economy in terms of tax, and they're spending that money and they're wasting a lot of it," Macdonald said.

"I'm glad they're finding some savings, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what they've ripped out of taxpayers pockets."

Green Party Leader David Coon said he would like to have seen a plan in the update to reduce the rate the debt is increasing.

"The government has thus far refused, and the minister's refused, to establish any targets to reduce the rate of increase in the debt and ultimately to reduce the debt itself," said Coon.

"When it comes to our fiscal health, that's where we really need to see the emphasis placed right now."

In the budget, the provincial debt was projected to rise to $14.4 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Ups and down

The largest jump in expected revenue came from the "miscellaneous" category at $16.6 million, which can partially be attributed to raising the HST, while the largest shortfall came in return on investment, which saw almost $10 million less than expected, mainly because NB Liquor's income was less than projected.

General government spending was $30.3 million less than expected because of lower retirement allowances, while spending in health was $11.3 million over budget.

Justice and Public Safety was also almost $6 million over budget due to January's ice storm.