Governments always dress up their budgets to look good but the devil is in the detail, as is said. The ACT Government’s mid-year budget update is no different, with speculation future promised surpluses will be much less than previously predicted.
Such crystal ball gazing is risky, there are too many unpredictables ahead, so rather than guess the actual amounts to put Canberra back in the black, the methods employed by our financial masters can be examined.
Rates will continue to rise as will land tax, the latter considerably, reflecting building investment. The Government continues to use special levies to raise more revenue – there are at least six – but it is unclear whether or not certain householders are exempt, as was the case with housing tenants and the domestic violence charge.
Apparently the utilities levy also will be increased. One hopes the amount will be more accurate than the expensive ‘guesstimates’ employed by ActewAGL in lieu of meter readings.
Against these demands upon the community is the continuing phasing out of stamp duty for house buyers. This reform has been too slow perhaps but is welcome, except for those owners footing the increased costs offsetting it.
Again the new convention centre has been postponed to the disappointment of business and the tourism industry. There is talk of an injection of presumably substantial federal funds, but why would the Commonwealth chip in for a commercial enterprise that has limited national benefit and would take patronage from existing centres interstate with more to offer, including votes? As the centre was to be a cornerstone of the city to the lake development, what now for that proposal?
Despite continuing criticism about government pork-barrelling, consultation funds for an ice sports facility in Tuggeranong is listed, thus satisfying two constituencies: the participants and the local Tuggeranong community. The incapacity of sports, even large national groups, to fund themselves remains a mystery, while selective government sponsorship and assistance raises questions of fairness. Similarly, seed funding for arts activities is provided, raising the same question.
It is important that this is only a budget update, but already the spectre of costs (blowouts?) for the controversial tram loom large, while the need to address urban services issues like maintenance of parkland and repair of footpaths draw increasing local complaint.
Fortunately the development of greater Canberra is accompanied by the provision of services, but this ever-growing expansion creates headaches for financial planners. Inevitably the budget is going to run out on repairs and management of common areas and upgrades of suburban shopping centres.
Such underfunded expenditure could be carried over, ignoring community concerns, but it is unlikely financial salvation would be ahead given the big ticket items planned or already announced. So the chances of a surplus budget in the foreseeable future diminishes and to perhaps even longer if the Woden tram extension proceeds.
Anyway, is a surplus budget, Micawber-like, all that important except for bragging rights? Does the average local, ignorant of the consequences, care if cool Canberra goes into meltdown?