The January Budget Blues

It’s January which is usually a month paying off Christmas bills, cutting back on consumption – both dietary and commercial – as we knuckle down and try to get real as we set our goals or “resolutions”. For governments at all levels, one of the key budgetary pressures is infrastructure spending. It seems governments have underestimated or ignored the expensive, long term investments in public assets such as roads, bridges and public buildings. Some governments haven’t balanced their books on the operating side, offering more programs and services than they can afford. At some point, we will all have to come to terms with the issue, which will probably mean changing our expectations.

Our municipality has been fortunate and responsible, as was clearly illustrated by Director of Finance Kimberley Pope’s presentation a few weeks ago outlining the township’s reserves position, but we still have assets needing work, including our roads. Even the CBC is recognizing the need to replace its transmission towers in order to reliably deliver their broadcasts. For Toronto the answer to infrastructure requirements seems to be tolls, for the province a new carbon tax, and for municipalities, there is a whispered suggestion of an increase in the sales tax to fund aging infrastructure across the board.

There is also infrastructure pressure in the private sector. The CRTC announcement last month that high-speed internet will soon be considered a basic telecom service which will force service providers to develop capital assets in financially unrewarding markets. It’s a worthy but expensive cause.

Unlimited wants, limited resources- the fundamental justification for the study of economics. It is a tough balancing act for anyone. Not to be a party pooper, but do we really need to spend $45 million on sesquicentennial parties this year in the city of Ottawa alone? KG

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