Hope missing in 2017 budget, say opposition leaders

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Hope missing in 2017 budget, say opposition leaders

Opposition leaders say there's one obvious thing missing in this year's budget, and that's hope for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett released the 2017-18 budget on Thursday, projecting a $778-million deficit for the fiscal year, while avoiding layoffs and, apart from reducing the gasoline tax, maintaining taxes brought in last year.

Keeping most of the measures in last year's budget will make sure life is hard for people of the province, says NDP Leader Earle McCurdy.

"I think it's easy to get overly-obsessed with the deficit. The bottom line of the government finances is a matter to be taken seriously, for sure, but a budget should first and foremost be about saying, 'what hope is there for the people of the province?'" he said.

"What circumstances are they in? How can we make their lives reasonable for them? What steps can we take? And I don't see that focus. I think the focus is more on administrative and bureaurocratic things."

McCurdy said this lack of vision means the Liberal government is focused only on problems.

"I don't see anything in here to correct the damage that was done by the panicked measures that were put in last year's budget, so it's a pretty tough spell coming up for the next several years."

The budget sets the ground for a "flatter, leaner economy," McCurdy said, and an economic outlook which includes an increase in unemployment.

Details missing in budget

Meanwhile, PC Leader Paul Davis said this year is more or less a repeat of last year's budget.

"We see the deficit going in, what appears to be, the right direction, but one of the troublesome parts of this is there's still these significant costs to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," said Davis.

"They brought in over 300 new fees and increased fees last year, and there's only one [this year] that they've modified — the gas tax."

This shows the Liberals don't have a plan to move the economy and province's finances forward, Davis said.

When the former premier was asked what he would have done differently, he said "everything," adding the Tories saved money in previous years through attrition.

"Even though the campaign was saying it was the preferred approach, there doesn't seem to have been an attrition plan anywhere with this government," said Davis.

He also noted there are details about certain programs that are missing from budget documents.

"We don't really know where their spending reductions are this year … so there's gonna be some time before we're able to get those details that really don't exist in these documents."

Government hands in public pockets

Davis echoed McCurdy's sentiments about a budget that doesn't seem to show a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I had hoped to see a budget that talked about hope, I hoped to see a budget that talked about Newfoundlanders and Labradorians having the ability to grow a province and grow opportunity, to build a future for our province and the people that live here," he said.

"There's none of that talk again this year. It's still about putting your hand in the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."