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It’s a surplus! (Except for that $11 billion we owe.)

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So the NDP are doing some pre-budget ramp-up that involves touting a steady-as-she-goes budget that makes good on small tax cut promises and makes education a priority.

They are also crowing about a $316 million surplus expected when this budget year runs out at the end of the month.

There are three things you should know about that:

  1. Most of that surplus will be Manitoba Hydro, which is having a great year.
     
  2. The province dipped into its rainy-day fund to the tune of $98 million. That’s the savings account many already fear is too weak to see the province through a real recession.
     
  3. The province might have paid $110 million on its debt, according to its quarterly report released earlier this week, but total debt went up. The net debt increased by $1 billion – that’s not even the real debt, which is an elusive number that I always struggle to tease out of any government financial report.

    The net debt is an artificial number that reflects assets minus debt, like if you took your paycheque and all the assets you own and compared that to all your debts. For the last few prosperous years province has pointed to that number as being on the decline, that they are taking in more revenue than they are taking on debt. Not anymore. Net debt and real borrowing are both up.

Anyway, saying Manitoba has a $316 million surplus is like saying I have $50 extra this month because I dipped into my business account, cashed in some RRSPs and racked up my Mastercard.

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