04/05/2013 10:37 EDT | Updated 06/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia Budget 2013: Opposition Questions Whether NDP's Budget Is Balanced

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's opposition parties are gearing up to fight the NDP government's assertion that its spring budget is balanced.

The $9.5-billion budget forecasts a small surplus of $16.4 million and a line-by-line examination of the fiscal document is scheduled to begin in the legislature on Monday.

Both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives said Friday that the budget would not get an easy ride through the legislature.

Liberal finance critic Diana Whalen said the budget is a political document that creates the illusion that the books are balanced before an election, which is expected some time later this year.

Whalen zeroed in on a $34-million pre-payment to two universities recorded on last year's books as an indication that the budget isn't truly balanced.

"It is built on a false assumption," said Whalen. "It doesn't hold water and I think it's our job to point that out."

When the budget was tabled Thursday, Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald said the pre-payment was made at the request of Acadia University and NSCAD University, formerly the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

She said it wasn't unusual for a government to make such a payment.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said Friday that Finance officials have told him the payment was made on March 28, the final business day of the last fiscal year.

Baillie said there was no advantage for the universities in getting the money on March 28 instead of the first day of the new fiscal year on Monday.

"That was done for only one reason and that is to create the appearance of a surplus in the budget and that's wrong."

Premier Darrell Dexter said critics of the budget seem to be holding his government to a higher standard that those in the past, pointing to several previous budgets that have projected small surpluses.

Dexter said the balanced budget was planned and came about through fiscal discipline in the midst of a downturn in the world economy.

"We did what we did to get the budget back to balance and I think it has all been reasonable," Dexter said.

Whalen said the Liberals would also question the government's revenue projections when the legislature resumes next week, while Baillie said he wants to examine the government's accounting practices.

Also on HuffPost

Provinces With Biggest Deficits, 2012