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Does everybody dumping on the budget mean it's a fair one? Not necessarily.

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For the life of me I don’t know why anybody would want to be in government these days. But parties fight tooth and nail for the privilege, which, with the Gallant government’s first budget, includes the inevitable privilege of being pretty much universally scorned.

Our financial situation guaranteed a budget that would be unpopular, and given that just about every special interest group has jumped in to say how short-sighted the budget decisions are in regards to what they care about, maybe that speaks to it being fair overall.

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The technology sector is upset about cancellation of the tax rebate program, seniors are upset about removal of the cap for residents of nursing homes, teachers are upset about the pending reduction in teaching positions, the New Brunswick Union is upset about cutbacks in the civil service,

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and while the rich couldn’t very well come out against being hit with higher taxes, others have done it for them, suggesting it will kill jobs, community groups are upset about court house and Service NB office closures, or pending school closures, and the list goes on.

The thing is, taken in isolation, every group’s criticism has validity. And while every one of them realizes, or should realize that our financial situation is dire, not one of them suggested what should have been cut instead, only that their “thing” shouldn’t be.

Now, on the heels of the budget, Moodys has raised the suggestion of a drop in our credit rating.

In a column the other day former Fredericton Chamber of Commerce President Les Smith made the point that this province has to pay $685 million per year interest charges on our debt of nearly $13 billion. He pointed out that that amounts to $78,000 per hour. And that’s without making a dent in the principle – it’s the proverbial money down the toilet.

To put this in perspective it amounts to almost 10 Atcons, every year, with about the same benefit.

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The government knows our financial situation is serious. So it is a bit puzzling that it didn’t raise the HST. Finance Minister Roger Melanson says they might do that next year, and so be it, but it means that in the meantime, we lose a year’s worth of much needed revenue.

I think New Brunswickers get that we are in a desperate financial situation and that restraint is required, and I expect there is general approval of the government’s stated reasoning that fairness will prevail and that people who can afford it most are required to contribute more.

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But fairness often hinges on one’s perspective. And as is often the case, the devil may be in the details. For example, while taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing nursing home costs for rich people, what income and asset levels does the government have in mind for subsidized care? What constitutes rich? It’s not usually a good omen when these details aren’t available. 

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