The tax cuts are smaller up front than Labour had been hoping to deliver but the economic position at present means there is simply not the money in the coffers to give huge cuts right now. Labour is bringing forward the cuts and the boost to Working for Families to October 1, instead of April 1 which would be the usual date, and targeting money at lower income families first. The cuts in following years will be larger than most expected and will spread the benefits into upper middle income levels ($50K plus), with the tax bill for someone on $50,000 reducing 15% by 2011.
Labour’s broadband plan is much more sophisticated than National’s and will actually work in delivering better internet without putting Telecom back into a monopoly position. It doesn’t aim to build in record time a network massive bandwidth that most people have no use for. Instead, it takes a more prudent and cost-effective approach to gradually increase broadband speeds. Sure, National’s investment figure is bigger but there is a vacuum behind it, as if the plan was made up on day and Key plucked the$1.5 billion figure from the air. It was good to see that Labour’s plan specifically includes money for a new trans-Tasman cable, for which the government will be anchor tenant. It’s all very well having lightening fact connections in New Zealand but not much good if the data can’t get overseas. The Labour plan also targets those who have most use for faster broadband, businesses.
The tax cuts and the global economic slowdown mean the fiscal position of the Government will be much tighter in the coming years than it has been in the last few budgets. The operating deficit will be down to a couple of percent of GDP. Government debt will remain stable at around 18% of GDP over the next three years. Labour is not increasing debt to pay for tax cuts but rather than decrease debt further it is giving tax cuts. By phasing the cuts in over three years, the inflationary impact from them is reduced. Inflation is expected to fall under 3% in the medium term. That’s the Reserve target, so interest rates can be expected within the nest few months.
This means there is little free room, only about $1.7 billion, for spending or tax cuts promises heading into the election without going into an operating deficit (that is, borrowing to fund day to day spending, rather than borrowing for investment). Which sets us up for an interesting election: where will the money come from for both major parties to offer vote-grabbing policies, and what will be left for policy concessions to minor parties in governing deals?
As we predicted, this budget leaves National in a bind. If they offer larger tax cuts than Labour, it will have to increase borrowing or cut spending. It also eliminates the over-taxation argument. There was this weird perception that Cullen was sitting on a huge pile of gold at the end of each year, when, in fact, the operating surpluses were being used to fund capital investment and pay-down debt. Now, Labour has delivered tax cuts and kept debt levels steady. It has already meant less new social spending than Labour would probably have liked.
It now comes down to a simple choice for voters: reasonable tax cuts, not more government debt, and moderate increases in government spending or large tax cuts (mostly for the rich, no doubt), more government debt, and less spending on public services.