Cutting services benefits few, hurts many in N.B.

Ella Henry - From College Hill to Parliament Hill (Tom Bateman/AQ)

There is no budget crisis.

Or, to be more precise, there is no spending problem.

We don’t need massive budget cuts. The provincial budget woes are caused by a lack of revenue, not a spending problem.

Provincial Finance Minister Blaine Higgs wants us to believe that the province’s finances leave us on the verge of economic collapse. He knows if we can be convinced the situation is dire, New Brunswickers will be less likely to speak out when he cuts funding to programs and services we need.

According to Higgs, there’s no money for students, no money for universities, no money for school districts, no money for pensions, and no money to reduce poverty.

His solution is to increase user fees – tuition fees, campsite fees, driver’s license fees, air quality approval fees, veterinary fees, application fees for the small business tax credit. You name it, there’s going to be a new fee for it.

These increased fees will generate a few million, one dollar at a time.

And while that might sound like a lot of money, with a budget deficit in the hundreds of millions, these new fees are hardly an efficient way to reduce the deficit.

But, they play into the idea that we’re collectively tightening our belt, an idea Higgs needs us to buy into.

The reality is, not everyone in New Brunswick is being asked to take part in this collective belt-tightening. Those who can afford to pay are going to come out of this round of belt-tightening with more money than ever.

Meanwhile, those who can least afford to pay are being asked to shoulder an increasing burden. While cuts might make the government’s balance sheet look better, he’s only moving the debt from his balance sheet to ours.

For us, as students, Higgs’ funding cuts to universities and increases in user fees (i.e. tuition fees) will turn provincial debt into student debt. We already have a student debt crisis, and making it worse won’t solve the provincial government’s budget problems.

The solution to provincial debt won’t be found by increasing user fees or through petty cuts to social programs people rely on.

The problem is revenue. Cuts to corporate taxes and income taxes that will benefit the Irvings much more than the average person have left a gaping hole in New Brunswick’s budget.

Reversing the tax reform that began to be phased in three years ago would go a long way to balancing the province’s books.

By next year, the tax reform plan will mean that someone making $45,000 a year and someone making $450,000 a year will have the same tax rate.

This has huge benefits for the rich, and very few for the rest of us.

According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the average family’s taxes are being reduced by $722, but the average taxes of people who used to be in the highest tax bracket are being reduced by $24,029.

Higgs’ plan means more debt, more fees and fewer services for the overwhelming majority of people in New Brunswick. It means more money in the pockets of people who already have more money than they know what to do with.

But it isn’t the only option.

So, next time the minister of finance tells us cuts are the only option, ask him who’s really benefiting.

Ella Henry is the former president of the St. Thomas University students’ union and now serves as an off-campus representative in the STUSU.