04/04/2013 06:58 EDT | Updated 06/04/2013 05:12 EDT

B.C. Liberals hiding $800M budget deficit, says NDP

The B.C. NDP says the B.C. Liberal government is deliberately hiding a deficit close to $800 million this fiscal year.

In February, Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong tabled a lean budget, forecasting a $197-million surplus in 2013/14, and a $211-million surplus in 2014/15, including speculative revenues from natural gas royalties and asset sales.

But at a news conference on Thursday, NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said he estimates the actual deficit to be $790 million for the 2013/14 fiscal year and $847 million for 2014/15.

"It's the real Liberal deficit, it's their refusal to be honest and open about expenditure growth and asset sales in this budget," he said. "Neither number is a real number."

Ralston said he rejects the Liberal's projections for expenditure growth and the prospects of asset sales.

"The Liberal budget projects only 0.8 per cent growth in expenditures for the coming year," said Ralston, in a statement released on Thursday.

"But average growth over the Liberals’ term in office has been 3.2 per cent. Either the Liberals have understated expenditures dramatically, or they are planning a massive wave of secret post-election cuts to critical services for British Columbians."

Ralston also questioned why the Liberals booked $475 million this year and a further $150 million next year for the sale of public assets, even though not a single sale has been confirmed.

"They’re counting on the sale of more assets in one year than the government has sold in the last ten years combined, and they’re booking the money before the sales have been made," said Ralston.

"It's not realistic, and it’s not prudent fiscal planning."

Liberals call NDP claims propaganda

B.C.'s Finance Minister Mike de Jong dismissed Ralstons's claims as "political propaganda," saying if the NDP have a plan, they should present it to British Columbians.

"The NDP, as always, wants to spend more," he said, which will lead to higher taxes, worsening credit and higher borrowing costs for B.C.

"I know the notion of fiscal discipline is extraordinarily foreign to the NDP — and it's always the taxpayers who pay for that — but to suggest that it can't be done is really to reveal how unprepared and unwilling the NDP are to bring that kind of fiscal discipline on behalf of taxpayers."

The Liberals said in a statement the last New Democrat government delivered eight consecutive deficit budgets, and the province received six consecutive credit-rating downgrades.

By 1999, the statement said B.C. had the highest top marginal personal income tax rate of 54 per cent for those earning in excess of $80,000 at the time.

The provincial Finance Ministry weighed in with a fact sheet pointing out that Moody's credit rating agency reaffirmed B.C.'s triple-A rating on Wednesday, citing the province's strong track record for meeting budget targets.

"After trailing the national average in real economic growth through the latter half of the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, the British Columbia economy outperformed the Canadian economy in recent years," the ministry quoted Moody's as saying.

NDP will run a deficit

If the New Democrats form the next government, Ralston said they would likely table a new budget in the fall with a plan to balance the books in four years.

Ralston said the New Democrats will lay out a fiscal framework next week and it will be in the red, due to the deficit the next government will inherit.

"Our goal is to balance the budget within four years," he said. Liberal expenditure growth is unrealistic unless there are massive cuts, he said, so the NDP plan will have higher expenditures. Those will be "fully costed" with new revenues, he said.

"Our proposals will be balanced, but we're starting from a point where the Liberals — if there is a change in government — will have left a real deficit," Ralston said.

Beside him, Carole James said the increases will be modest and fiscally responsible.

"This is being up front with the voters," James said, citing the 2009 Liberal budget.

"They were not up front with the voters and we believe it is critical to be honest and up front with the voters. That's what you see in these numbers."

James said additional spending on community living, health and post-secondary will be NDP priorities, but there were no other financial plans forthcoming.

Leader Adrian Dix has already said the party would increase income tax for high-income earners taking in more than $150,000 a year, and boost the general corporate tax to 12 per cent from 11 per cent.

They would also institute a capital tax on financial institutions to pay for non-refundable student grants.