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Old-time Budgets more exciting than dumped bachelorettes

Opinion Piece

Finance Minister Bill English has given his clearest pre-Budget signal yet in a speech last week that once again showed he is a shrewd but cautious holder of the national purse strings.

Speaking to an audience of businesspeople he said the May 26 Budget would not include any personal tax cuts and the Government instead will focus on reducing debt as well as facing the need for some new spending, in part to pay for infrastructure arising from a surge in migration.

Previously he had indicated there would be $1.5 billion earmarked for new spending this year with a further $2.5 billion in election year 2017, of which ?$1.5 billion would be for tax cuts.

English said a proportion of the new spending allocated for 2017 would be brought forward, but would not say how much.

Reducing taxes was still a priority for the Government and that could be reconsidered in 2017 or after, as and when the fiscal situation improved.

Instead for now English wants to focus on reducing the proportion of government debt to GDP from the present figure of 25 percent to his goal of 20 percent by 2020.

While he may have spoiled his audience’s lunch, English knows that out in the wider community — despite the always predictable appeals for more health, education and social spending — people support debt reduction.

Like any good, dour Southlander, English has always worked to project an image of being a safe pair of hands that has guided the country well since the global financial crisis of 2007-08.

That he has succeeded to a large extent is one of the main reasons the Government continues to poll well.

English’s speech was overshadowed in the New Zealand media somewhat by the furore that arose from the culmination of television’s The Bachelor NZ.

Some veteran journalists lament the modern practice of pre-Budget announcements that are presumably designed to maximise feel-good news as well as avoid speculation on the financial markets. Old-time Budgets were often much more exciting than dumped bachelorettes.