Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Digging deeper

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Finance Minister Jennifer Howard is using the rising revenues of Crown corporations to sell Manitobans on the line her government is reducing its costs, allowing it to cut steeply the deficit forecasted in April of last year.

It's a piece of political fraud taxpayers can quickly toss in the garbage bin.

Manitoba Hydro's rising revenues due to an unusually long and cold winter has recast the deficit projection in the province's summary budget, which includes the finances of Crown agencies. The "summary" deficit for 2013-14 is expected to come in $86 million less than the budgeted $518 million.

But hold the applause. The bottom line for taxpayers lies with the government's operating budget -- the departmental spending and the revenues. That detail is found in the back pages of the third-quarter financial report, and it makes for a grim picture. Despite Ms. Howard's praise for efforts in the departments to work more efficiently and manage expenditures, the truth is the government expects to run over its budgeted spending (again) by more than $31 million.

Markedly higher corporate income tax and service-fee revenues have helped staunch the flow of red ink. But the bottom line, once the $100-million contingency for First Nations flooding is added in, is expected now to be a much higher $613 million, and that will affect the provincial debt.

Glowing press releases aside, Ms. Howard, regarded as a smart and able minister, has not managed to rein in her government's spending habit. Rather, she has opted to deflect blame and whine about Statistics Canada's population estimates, which will cut Manitoba's expected federal transfers. But Manitobans don't have to take her word. Taxpayers can review the financial report, compare the budget and the new spending forecasts, and decide for themselves who is digging them into debt.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 A16

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