Labour should read Fallow

The moment there is a small upturn in the economy, Labour is already pushing for a splurge o . This is reckless, and fiscal restraint is needed for not just a year or two, but probably a decade. Brian Fallow explains:

The net effect of a reduced tax take and much higher public spending will have given a boost roughly equivalent to 6 per cent of gross domestic product over the two years to June next year.

That was entirely appropriate.

But the recession’s legacy of a shrunken tax base, a string of deficits and mounting debt servicing costs will cast a dark and cold shadow over next year’s Budget. …

It will be 2016, if we are lucky, before surpluses return, and every year in the red adds to the public debt burden.

It is a recipe for interest costs to eat up more and more of the future tax dollar, well before the echo of the baby boom sends health and superannuation costs through the roof. It is not sustainable.

Spending needs to be restrained, and to shrink as a proportion of the economy.

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

It doesn’t want to “rip the guts” out of the Government’s expenditure line. But if the Government holds new Budget spending to a constant $1.1 billion increase each year, over time this will have the effect of pulling Government spending back down towards 30 per cent of GDP and, in Key’s words, “force change through the system”.

This is around half the new spending that Labour had, and keeping spending increases to this level for more than a couple of years will be pretty bloody difficult. But we do need to get Government spending down to under 30% of GDP.

And Colin Espiner reports:

The Government remained committed to a new spending limit of $1.1b and was investigating a total spending cap, English said.

Total Crown spending is expected to reach $65b this year and rise by about $3b each year.

“Demand-driven” expenditure such as health and education, benefits, superannuation and KiwiSaver payments are not currently included in the Government’s sinking lid on public spending.

Under a total cap, any increases in expenditure would have to be offset by cuts in other areas or approved by the Cabinet. English said he was looking at “better and more coherent methods of knowing where spending is occurring and what the alternatives are”.

The Netherlands and Sweden had spending caps, he said. “We’ll be talking more about that in Budget 2010.”

I think the Fiscal Responsibility Act should be amended so that the Government has to set a target (like it does for CPI for the Reserve Bank) for spending as a percentage of GDP and for what level of surplus is desired. This would require political parties to be more transparent about what they propose. If Labour wants to spend an extra $6 billion a year, then they’ll have to be open about it, and let people see the consequences.

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