The $7.5b question: tax cuts; election spend up; something else?


The biggest government surplus in a decade has political and economic commentators thinking: What will Treasurer Grant Robertson do with a $7.5 billion surplus?

A few certainties arise even before that question can be considered:

  1. 2020 is election year and there will no doubt be thoughts of holding at least some of it to throw at election promises in a years time
  2. Certain parties who do not need to be named are going to want – and indeed have already promised – tax cuts, specifically income tax cuts
  3. With a shaky world economy getting ever more jittery with every passing month and the domestic economy not looking so hot, economists and some politicians are suggesting that the government needs a spend up to get things moving

I have long had ideas about what to potentially spend on in the past, which have been largely social areas such as health, education and social welfare. My understanding is that the calls in 2019 are for greater investment in infrastructure critical to the 21st Century.

This suits me fine, as I have a few ideas of what it could be spent on:

  1. Research and development of a potential biofuel programme relying on the waste stream for an appropriate fuel source – take several years to get this started, but if successful modest scale biofuel plants could be established in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch
  2. Research and development of a Waste to Energy plant for the West Coast, which would be self sufficient in terms of electricity use
  3. Examine electrification of the South Island segment of the Main Trunk Line
  4. Invest in 5G technology nation-wide instead of letting the telecommunications companies do so for reasons of national security
  5. A substantial acceleration of the billion tree programme that was announced by the Government in 2017
  6. Support a mini-home scheme

But what if the Government decided on tax cuts? Whilst there might be enough to justify some I am personally against income tax cuts because the wealthiest are always the winners, when all should be able to gain fairly from them. Such a move would certainly not be welcomed by the left wing of New Zealand politics, who believe with justification that this would only favour the very few.

A more intriguing alternative is one that almost never seems to be up for discussion. Despite the right talking about fiscal responsibility, under the last several New Zealand governments significant debt has been accrued and much of it is still outstanding. Has the ever so radical idea that New Zealand should actually pay more  of it back not strike one as a useful idea?

2019 New Zealand Fiscal Budget run down


Yesterday Treasurer Grant Robertson announced the 2019 Fiscal Budget, which is delivered in late May. It sets down the spending priorities for New Zealand.The Government made a promise that the 2019 Budget would be a budget about “well being”. Many people on the centre-right thought that the whole idea was all just fluffy feel good spending with little practical value.

At a first glance there appears to be little unexpected expenditure. Defence, education and a number of portfolio’s that have had recent major announcements knew not to seriously expect much more than what had already been allocated. As noted in other articles, the Defence Force is getting P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that can watch our waters, but also perform search and rescue. At some point in the next couple of years a solid decision will be taken on what shall replace the C130 Hercules as our major transport plane.

Not surprisingly the major beneficiaries of Budget 2019 have been those who need social welfare assistance from the Government. One of the several measures introduced is to index benefits to wages, which stands to affect about 339,000 individuals and families.

Schools were a surprise winner. Despite the teachers being on strike and Minister for Education Chris Hipkins being adamant there is no more available, $1.2 billion has been set aside for maintenance and upgrading of school property. This will help fund new class rooms for expanding schools, new/replacement buildings.

Perhaps the biggest loser was health. Few significant announcements appear to have been made. I was wondering if there might be money for upgrading hospitals and a modest top up of the District Health Boards following issues in recent years around funding calculations.

There was a very welcome investment of N.Z.$1 billion for railways, as an acknowledgement of the significant but under appreciated role that they play in our economy. Hopefully it will lead to Kiwi Rail better utilizing the South Island track network, which could easily allow more freight to go on rails instead of via road.

National and A.C.T. invariably cried foul on the apparent lack of regard paid by the budget to the economy. This demonstrates to me that they clearly have not latched in any way onto the fact that from Day 1 this Government has said that it will have a stronger focus on the well being of people. It is an attempt to provide redress for the socio-economic consequences of National’s market driven  philosophy. From those with family in mental health institutions, to those struggling to get their children through school and retirees concerned about being left behind in the digital era, this Budget appears to try to address their needs.

On a cautionary note though, the budget, whilst nice for those in income poverty and having issues with mental health, does raise – again – questions about the wisdom of removing the Capital Gains Tax from the table. Going into election year with National and A.C.T. nipping on Labour’s heals, the money taken from a C.G.T. would have gone some distance ensuring New Zealand’s debt does not get too big.

 

What I hope for from New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2019


Whilst the Government struggles to contain the effects of National’s claimed leakage of figures from today’s Fiscal Budget, I give my take on what should be in Budget 2019. This is not a complete list, but a priority one based on what I believe has been a significant and sustained under funding of programmes and support for the very young and the very old, the mentally unwell and those in the education system who are not in a position to fund their own expenses.

I am not expecting much, if anything new, for education today. I believe Minister of Education Chris Hipkins when he says that he cannot offer teachers all that they are asking for. A lot of the demands are things that are built up with time and need refining as they go – it is not a simple case of saying “here’s the money, it is all ready to go”.

The same goes for Defence. Earlier announcements might get a top up such as the P8 Poseidon patrol aircraft acquisition. However I am not expecting Minister of Defence Ron Mark to announce much if anything new.

Where I am expecting to see some additional support are:

  • Non monetary: Moves by Treasury to implement some of the recommendations made by the Tax Working Group in their review, which came out earlier this year. For the Government to improve its revenue, changes need to be implemented fairly rapidly
  • Non monetary: Investigation into Pigouvian tax being used to dissuade persistent polluters by taxing them if more than x is discharged per business year
  • Non monetary: Lower the range of housing prices for Kiwi Build houses – the current range is unrealistic
  • Mental health: the Government has announced it will accept nearly all of the recommendations that were made in the mental health inquiry, except – notably – the one for a suicide reduction target and one other; given the problems being had with mental health patients in hospitals, the explosion of problems among youth ranging from effects of bullying, societal pressure and domestic situations; support for mens mental health
  • Health: a top up for D.H.B.’s to help maintain services
  • Disability sector: frankly an abomination in terms of how it is being treated, where lip service is everything and solid accountable actions are nothing, a top up across the board for all such
  • Social Development: particularly those with school age children who might be struggling to afford the basics and may need assistance purchasing school materials, uniform parts or funding school trips; assistance for superrannuitants including perhaps further discounts on essentials
  • Tertiary Education: Introduction of a postgraduate allowance for all Honours, Masters and PhD students recognizing that it is impossible to expect such students to hold down full time work and complete qualifications that are time and energy intensive

Secondary priorities that I think need be provided for include:

  • investment in railways particularly in the South Island, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.
  • reinvestment in science with some emphasis on explaining theory to students.  waste reduction, reducing crime, and simplification of the research grant application process for researchers
  • encouraging reduction in harmful carbon emissions by recycling aluminium; introducing hempcrete; investigating the feasibility of waste to energy

There could be more, but when the Government walked away from the C.G.T. it walked away from a significant opportunity to check the unsustainable growth of the wealth and income of the 1% who have 50% of all of the known wealth. In doing so it deprived New Zealand of a substantial source of tax revenue that will now probably not happen for another generation – if ever.

The cautious budget


Treasurer Grant Robertson delivered the first Fiscal Budget of the Labour-New Zealand First-Green Government yesterday. Whilst disappointing Labour supporters and National supporters alike, the Budget kept a promise to exercise due fiscal restraint, acknowledging the poor international economic climate, the impact of the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes.

Thre was little presented in the 2018 Fiscal Budget that New Zealanders had not already been made aware of. A number of reasons exist for this:

  • The Government, as is often the case, had already outlined what it considered to be the major announcements
  • Prior to being elected, the Government had announced that it would establish a set of fiscal responsibility rules that woul ensure that the three parties acted in a cohesive yet responsible way
  • The first budget is normally the most cautious as the incumbent government wants to establish its credentials, particularly if its image has been damaged by Opposition claims

One the major announcements made was that Conservation would get  $138 million for pest control. Money was also allocated to schools, to help fill in gaps left by the previous government, though teachers signalled their considerable discontent, with one principal going so far as to say that he would not his teaching staff walking if they thought the budget insufficient. Perhaps the biggest cheer went to Health.

Budgeting expectations: New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2018


Today is the day that New Zealand and the world see the first budget of the Labour-New Zealand First-Greens coalition Government. It will be the first delivered by Labour Treasurer Grant Robertson. In anticipation of the budget, here is a recap of what has been announced and what can be expected.

The broad shape of some large expenditures have already been announced. The details that are still to follow on these will come later as those expenditures are put into effect. So, what are they?

  1. Transport – A total of $28 billion has been announced for fixing transport in Auckland, a sum that caught many by surprise, and which will be spread out over a 10 year period
  2. Housing – KiwiBuild was given a N.Z.$2 billion capital advance in December to get underway the construction of 100,000 new homes in New Zealand, and $100 million was allocated in the first pre-Budget announcement of which $37.1 million comes from existing budgetary measures
  3. Christchurch – The Government made significant election promises to Christchurch, which include supporting commuter rail, assistance for those struggling with insurance claims
  4. Foreign Affairs – you can see my earlier article acknowledging the $1 billion allocated to the Pacific and other aspects of New Zealand foreign affairs, but it is worth noting the reopening of the embassy in Sweden which closed under the National government

With so many big announcements already made, one might be wondering if Labour has any more tricks left in the bag. Mr Robertson will no doubt be acutely aware of other areas of funding for which announcements will need to be made at some point. They include the courts, prison and Police so that we may get on with dealing to the methamphetamine epidemic taking hold as well as trying to address why going to prison does not seem to be working as a sentencing tool.

At some point Mr Robertson will also have to address the potential of a nurses strike for better pay and conditions, which if answered will cost several hundred million dollars. In this case though, I wonder if it not so much an inadequate budget as inept District Health Board planning – shortly after Labour was elected in 2000 I heard that scrapping the District Health Boards in favour of a central funding model would save $750 million per annum, and whilst I am not necessarily suggesting such a move, a review of them is tempting.

Other areas that will need an increase in funding are Research, Science and Technology – New Zealand has lagged behind other O.E.C.D. countries for years in terms of investment into science. Some scientists have observed what appears to them to be a war on science by politicians with agenda’s that do not necessarily conform to the known facts, particularly around environmental issues.

I personally doubt Labour will make any radical new announcements today. Most of what happens I suspect will be building on existing announcements. Still, this is a big day for Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens. Voters, despite National’s attempts to show the contrary will probably go easy on them until a sense of direction (or lack of)becomes obvious.

Mr Robertson will deliver the Fiscal Budget at 1400 hours.