POLITICS

New Brunswick finance minister seeks budget freeze for legislative officers

03/18/2015 03:06 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT
FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's finance minister says he wants a funding freeze for legislative officers such as the ombudsman and the auditor general to help control spending in his upcoming budget.

Roger Melanson says he presented the idea Wednesday before a meeting of the legislative administration committee, which decides on budgets for all legislative officers.

"We believe that everybody has to be part of the solution in helping us get to a position where we have a balanced budget in our province," Melanson said.

"At this time we want to get the fiscal house in order and get to a position where we don't have to have any more structural deficit."

He has said that structural deficit is about $400 million a year and the government is looking for ways to cut spending or increase revenues to the tune of $500 million to $600 million annually.

But ombudsman Charles Murray said limiting his budget restricts the number and type of investigations he can do.

"Unfortunately we have been in a restraint package now such that our ability to provide services is getting squeezed quite badly," he said.

Murray said he has already lost one part-time employee because of his budget and a freeze would likely mean he'd have to let another go.

He said in times of restraint, his office gets more complaints from the public at a time when the government takes on more responsibilities.

The net debt for this fiscal year is projected to increase by $377 million, bringing the total net debt to more than $12 billion.

Melanson will present his first provincial budget on March 31.