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Let's Talk Money, and Deficits, BC Libs

Starting to look a lot like what Gordon Campbell called a 'structural deficit.'

By David Schreck 29 Nov 2012 | TheTyee.ca

David Schreck is a political analyst and former NDP MLA who publishes the website Strategic Thoughts, where a version of this article first appeared.

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After 12 years of tax shifts and changes, here's where we end up. Deficit image by Shutterstock.

It is beginning to look a lot like B.C. might have a structural deficit, yet when releasing his Second Quarterly Report, Finance Minister Mike de Jong would have us believe the 2013-14 budget will be balanced. We haven't heard the term structural deficit thrown around since Gordon Campbell came to power in 2001, declared there was a structural deficit and then proceeded to cut some taxes while raising others. 

In fiscal year 2000-2001 total government revenue was $29.69 billion; in 2012-13 it is expected to be $43.10 billion. That's an average annual growth of 3.1 per cent, but the Second Quarterly Report for 2012-13 showed total revenue increasing by only 1.9 per cent from last year. When the current fiscal plan was tabled, government assumed revenue would increase to $44.60 billion in 2013-14, but if it continues to grow at 1.9 per cent, revenue for 2013-14 will suffer a shortfall of $1.1 billion. It is hard to believe that de Jong can balance the pre-election budget with issues like that! 

Between fiscal year 2000-2001 and 2012-13, revenue from the MSP tax increased from $894 million to $2.05 billion (128 per cent). Gambling revenue increased from $554 million to $1.12 billion (101 per cent). Revenue from post-secondary education fees increased from $440 million to $1.24 billion in 2010-11 (figures aren't available for this year, but that's an increase of 180 per cent over 10 years). 

It's not just regressive taxes that showed big gains over the last twelve years. Transfers from the federal government increased from $3.3 billion in 2000-2001 to $7.3 billion in 2012-13 (121 per cent). Federal transfers are largely for health and social services ($5.6 billion this year), but that growth is coming to a halt with the new formula Prime Minister Harper unilaterally imposed.

Deep decade decline in natural resource revenue

Growth in some other sources of revenue is slow or negative. In 2000-2001 natural resource revenue totaled $3.96 billion, consisting mainly of forest revenue at $1.34 billion and natural gas revenue at $1.25 billion. In 2012-13, total natural resource revenue is estimated to be only $2.56 billion, with $546 million from forestry and $157 million from natural gas. This year total natural resource revenue is expected to be only 65 per cent of what it was in 2000-2001.

Revenue from the personal income tax was $5.96 billion in 2000-2001; in 2012-13 it is expected to be $6.90 billion, only 16 per cent greater as a result of twelve years of tax shifts and changes. 

It doesn't look like the government's deficit will disappear through good luck with growth or higher resource prices and cutting core services is politically unacceptable. In the short run, deficits can continue, as they have for the past four years, but short of a miraculous change, a serious discussion will have to take place about spending controls combined with alternative ways to increase revenue. 

Data used for this article comes from the government's DataBC Dataset "Revenue by Source, 1999-2000 to 2010-11", the 2012-13 budget, and the Second Quarterly Report for 2012-13 [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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