English signals missed surplus target

Bill English has clearly signalled he will announce another deficit budget this month.It’s likely to be a small deficit relative to the size of the budget, but red ink is red ink.

On The Nation yesterday:

Well, okay, it would be nice if the number got there this year; it’ll just take a bit longer.

We’ll soon be in a position to start paying off debt. Our expenditure’s under control; the revenue’s a bit harder.

We think that it’s really important we get to surplus…it’s going to take a bit longer.

In the whole scheme of financial management over seven budgets this won’t be a big deal.

Except that English and National have promoted and campaigned on reaching surplus by now so conceding this target is a bit of an embarrassment to them. English will take this on the chin, outwardly at least, but he will be frustrated. At least he should be.

The financial crisis followed by the Christchurch earthquake made it a very challenging two terms for National and despite clocking up some huge loans they have managed things fairly well, and compared to many other countries (notably Australia) it’s been well managed.

Minister, you used the analogy of weight loss, but let me use another one, the All Blacks. They set a goal to win the World Cup; they don’t. That’s a failure, and they call it that. You set a target for a surplus, and you haven’t met it. That’s a failure, isn’t it?
Well, for a lot of people, the surplus is less important than the World Cup. But the thing about the World Cup is—
But it’s your target, Minister. Minister, you set the target. It’s your target, and you didn’t get there. Isn’t that a failure?
With the World Cup, there is a final, and you’re absolutely judged on the final. With a surplus, it can take a bit longer and you still get there. You don’t get another go at the World Cup.

It is a failure to achieve what English has promoted and what National campaigned on last year. It’s not a broken promise. It’s pragmatic. But it’s a failure to achieve a target.

You’ve set yourself a time limit, and we were supposed to be in surplus and you’re not going to get there. Can you not concede that that is a failure?
No, I don’t call it a failure. It is what it is, and that is for the 14/15 year, we budgeted $370 million surplus. It looks like it will be a $500 or $600 million deficit, and the surplus will be the next year. So we’re on track.

But if English and National can’t get to surplus by next year’s budget the pressure will pile on them. They could be judged at the 2017 election by extended failure to achieve a surplus.

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