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Spending cuts expected in New Brunswick budget

03/27/2012 07:59 EDT | Updated 05/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs will deliver the Alward government's second budget in Fredericton today and he has made no secret of his desire to make significant cuts in the New Brunswick deficit.

Higgs also hasn’t hidden the resistance within provincial government to his plans for widespread cutting.

“I've learned that roads are the answer to all the woes it seems — build more roads and the election results will come,” he has said.

Higgs is expected to deliver his budget at 2 p.m. AT.

It’s unclear if he has been given free rein to slash spending or if Premier David Alward’s long list of unfulfilled election promises will take precedence and keep the deficit growing.

Higgs has acknowledged that his first budget underwhelmed many people because of its failure to aggressively attack the provincial deficit, now estimated at $471 million.

"I had a lot more comments that said ‘You didn't go far enough.’ Of course I said, ‘Well, just wait, we'll be back,’” he said during a town hall meeting in Saint John, one of several consultation meetings held across the province this winter.

Higgs has promised this budget will be tougher than the previous one, with long-range planning and fundamental attacks on government spending.

"We will take the necessary steps to ensure this province does not fall off the edge and that's what this budget preparation and three-year forecast is all about,” he has said.

But Alward made more than 80 spending promises during the 2010 election and pledged during debates to keep every last one.

“When you run on a platform, you run on your word," he said. "My word is my contract to the people of New Brunswick."

Last March, the Alward government delayed promised tax cuts, trimmed provincial spending and hiked gas and cigarette taxes in its initial attempt to slay the deficit.

In that budget, Higgs announced New Brunswick’s deficit would fall to $448.8 million in 2011-12 after cuts of $220 million in spending and a revenue increase of $100 million through higher taxes on tobacco and fuel.

The Tories also limited the number of top bureaucrats and axed a handful of government agencies, such as the Provincial Capital Commission, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Secretariat for Community Non-Profit Organizations.

Alward has acknowledged the speculation about deep cuts and civil service layoffs in the 2012-13 budget but has described the coming changes as “government renewal.”

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