Grant Robertson’s first Budget falls short of being a real humdinger, but it is no humdrum affair.
It is restrained rather than reformist. It is transitional rather than— to borrow one of the Prime Minister’s favourite words — transformative.
The document is devoid of any “wow” factor. It contains nothing which is likely to grab the public’s imagination.
What is eye-watering is the scale of the cash and capital injections into the public health sector.
There is only one thing that can be guaranteed from that funding. With an ageing population, even more moolah will be needed — and soon.
The extra spending on health makes this a traditional Labour Budget to its core. The comparative starvation diet imposed on the education sector makes it a very unusual Labour Budget.
The contradiction comes down to priorities — the priorities imposed by the Minister of Finance by his wearing of the clothes of fiscal rectitude.
Robertson describes his first Budget as a “bread and butter” Budget. That is a way of deflecting National’s claim that he has been wasting all the tax revenue flowing into the Treasury’s coffers on fancy cakes.
In preparing the Budget, he had to conduct a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, Labour had to go some way towards meeting the unrealistic expectations the party had raised during last year’s election campaign that it would fix the country’s ageing schools and hospitals if it won power.
On the other hand, Labour did not want to do anything which National would wield as confirmation that Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues were binge spendthrifts.
He needed to serve up a very thick surplus.
Tempted as he might have been to borrow heaps more money to fund the Government’s extensive and expensive capital works programme given current low interest rates, that is a political no-go area. Voters simply don’t like being in such hock.
Robertson’s caution means there is little to dislike in his Budget. Voters would like it even more were it not for one yawning hole — the absence of further measures helping first-home buyers get into a house or apartment.
Simon Bridges labelling of KiwiBuild as KiwiFraud was very cutting. It was biting because there was more than an element of truth in the remark — at least in terms of fraud in the political sense.
Perhaps worse would be KiwiBuild to become a joke, especially in Auckland. The joke would be on Labour.
Given elections can be won or lost on the mood in that metropolis, the broad smiles on the faces of Ardern and her MPs yesterday would fast become a distant memory.