BUSINESS

New Brunswick's projected deficit now expected to approach $500 million

09/27/2013 09:30 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST
SAINT JOHN, N.B. - New Brunswick's finance minister is blaming lower than expected revenue figures for a larger deficit that is now forecast to reach just shy of $500 million for this fiscal year.

An update on the state of the province's finances until the end of June that was released Friday shows the 2013-14 deficit has grown to $499.9 million, $21.2 million more than was estimated in the budget in March.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said while expenses are under budget by $20 million, revenues were $41.4 million lower than forecast in the spring's $8.5-billion budget, the penultimate one before an election scheduled for next year.

"That's due mainly to weaker than anticipated results from NB Power," Higgs said.

NB Power has seen increased costs for fuel, pensions and the purchase of power in the first quarter of the fiscal year, he said.

Higgs has been under pressure from the Liberal Opposition to release the figures sooner, with Liberal Leader Brian Gallant promising to release quarterly financial results on set dates.

Higgs said he expects the audited financial statements for 2012-13 from auditor general Kim MacPherson in a few weeks and had been hoping to release those with the results from the first quarter.

"We've had this information on the first quarter for a few weeks but we were intending to be able to line it up to the year-end results from last year," he said.

MacPherson said her work will be completed soon.

"We've been working on it for a number of months and some years the process takes longer than others," she said.

The second financial quarter ends Monday.

Gallant said he wasn't surprised by the bigger deficit.

"The figures aren't surprising, but they are concerning," he said.

"This government promised they had a plan to balance the books without cutting services and they had a plan to balance the books without raising taxes," he said.

"And now they've raised taxes, cut services and they still can't balance the books."

When he released his budget in March, Higgs said he had to raise taxes because the deficit was growing.

The next fiscal update will include extra revenue from an increase in personal income taxes that went into effect July 1, which the government forecast would generate another $136 million in revenue for this fiscal year. The budget also increased corporate taxes, which are predicted to generate an additional $17 million in revenue.

Despite the tax increases, Higgs said revenue levels for the second quarter don't look promising.

"It hasn't strengthened," he said. "We've seen some signs of growth in sectors like in the forestry sector, but I'm not expecting a huge uplift in revenue for the second quarter."

Higgs said every government department is either under or within one per cent of their budget for the year.

Premier David Alward said his government has brought spending under control and much larger deficits were expected when his party took power from the previous Liberal administration.

"If we had not made that decision early on, looking at the continued economic performance and the issues of revenue, we as a province would be in very dire straits," he said.

Alward's government ordered every department to find savings and has reduced the size of the public service.

Gallant said while Alward was making cuts, he has forgotten to grow the economy and create jobs, which has led to people leaving the province.

"This is incredibly worrisome in the fact that people have to leave the province to look for work, and it just spirals the revenue problem that we have," Gallant said.

Figures released Thursday by Statistics Canada show New Brunswick's population dropped by about 1,000 people as of July 1 compared to the same date last year.