The NDP government of Nova Scotia inherited a structural deficit when they came to power in 2009. The only way out of that was substantial social spending cuts, or raising taxes. To their credit, at the time, the Dexter government chose to do both rather than the unvarnished neoliberal route of pure slashing.
Serious spending cuts did not begin until two years into the government's mandate - just over a year ago now. Most departments were spared the really deep cuts. Not so with education, the second of the big two in provincial government spending. But most Nova Scotians, even parents with school age children, did not substantially feel the first year of steep education cuts.
- The relative mildness of those education cuts in the first year owed to a bunch of one-time savings, like axing some support programs and deferring long-term maintenance. This year, those "easy" steps are gone. So now it's more cuts to support programs, and school libraries, as well as major classroom teacher reductions.
The NDP government's spinmeisters unanimously gush that this is the unfortunate consequence of cuts having to match declines in school age population. But classroom teacher cuts are three to four times population decline, and the cuts to virtually everything else are at an even steeper rate.
It would be one thing if all of this was necessary to wrestle down the deficit. But that is not the case. (The Nova Scotia chapter of the CCPA has presented an alternative budget, which can be read here.)
The deficit is being wrestled down with just two years of drastic education cuts. Stretching the cuts across three years instead of two would have spared schools this depth of cutting. This alternative elimination of deficit spending in three years would still have had the government bringing in a balanced budget before they have to go to the voters.
Government has the 'tax cut religion'
But suddenly, 'merely' slaying the deficit isn't good enough. Dexter's crew has got the tax cut religion and more than doubled how long we get these drastic social spending cuts. As far as we have descended in these two years of steep cutting, suddenly we have at least two more years of the same brutality. Only now it is to pay for tax cuts.
In March of this year, the NDP mailed a survey to members asking if we thought it was necessary to bring the HST back down those two percentage points it was increased in 2009; and asking if the government should consult widely on this.
Who knows why they asked us, since they already had their answer - Dexter and Finance Minister Steele started floating that 'since things are going so well, maybe it is time for a tax cut.'
Sure the media and the right is going to like the pronouncement that the budget slashing 'is going well.' But at what cost to Nova Scotians? And what about the NDP's base that got this government where it is?
And of course, that 'maybe it's time for a tax cut' was within days followed by a promised HST cut. The special spin for the NDP's base that emanated from Dexter and company is that we 'had to do the tax cut.'
There was a broad social consensus cutting across ideological lines on the necessity of the 2009 HST takeback of the Harper GST cut. No one except the hapless opposition parties throws the broken election campaign promise at the government, and the media fall all over themselves praising the government for its fiscal management.
Fellow Nova Scotia New Democrats: there is blood on those tax cuts.
Ken Summers was a long-time activist in the Nova Scotia NDP.
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