27 Sep 2023

Election 2023: Labour's fiscal plan looks to reduce government spending, maintain income tax settings

12:09 pm on 27 September 2023

Labour has released its fiscal plan stating now is not the time for additional taxes and acknowledged the next few Budgets would be tight.

Labour is calling its fiscal plan responsible, balanced and credible.

Its numbers have been reviewed by Infometrics that have concluded the costings appear reasonable and fit within the Budget allowances.

Party's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson acknowledged the next few Budgets would be tight but said there was room for a limited number of new commitments.

That included removing GST off fruit and vegetables, and free dental care for those under 30.

"The next few Budgets will be tight as the government moves to reduce expenditure after the necessary investments through Covid and to ease the pressure of the cost of living. There is room in Labour's plan to meet cost pressures and for a limited number of new commitments, as announced during the campaign.

"We've provisioned for the big cost pressures the government will face."

Talking to reporters in Auckland, Hipkins said: "Our economy is now 8 percent larger than it was before Covid-19. Unemployment has been below 4 percent for two years. In the last quarter our economy grew faster than the likes of Australia, UK, US and the European Union."

"While inflation remains too high, it is coming down and will be in the Reserve Bank's target range next year.

"Now is not the time for a radical change in direction."

According to the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU), the Labour government signalled Budget operating allowances of $3.5b in Budget 2024, declining to $3.25b in Budget 2025 and $3b in 2026.

PREFU showed the expected deficit for the 2022/23 year ballooned to $11.4b from the previous forecast $7.6b as the tax take fell $2.9b short of forecasts.

The Reserve Bank's inflation target ranges from 1 to 3 percent.

Labour's fiscal plan shows it will fund its campaign promises from a near $30b pool set aside for new spending over the next four budgets.

It leaves very little left over for new promises.

Hipkins said New Zealand was well-placed to deal with any unexpected disasters or crises.

He said the government was focused on keeping on net debt low, in case of climate-related emergencies.

"Look across the Tasman, net debt's roughly double what it is in New Zealand. In the US, the UK, it's at 100 percent of GDP almost. New Zealand's net debt is very low by international standards."

Robertson said the party's fiscal goals include achieving an OBEGAL (operating balance before gains and losses) surplus and keeping net debt below 30 percent of GDP.

Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson and leader Chris Hipkins announce the party's fiscal plan on 27 September, 2023.

Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

"We are on track to meet these rules. OBEGAL is forecast to reach a surplus of $2.1 billion in 2026/27. Net debt peaks at 22.8 percent of GDP in 2024/25 and declines over the forecast period, well below the ceiling of 30 percent of GDP."

High-wage jobs, low-carbon future

"We will drive further savings and efficiencies across government on top of the $8b we have found this year. We will prioritise investment in essential public services that New Zealanders rely on and build a stronger and more resilient economy that delivers high-wage jobs and transitions to a low-carbon future.

"Labour will maintain income tax settings to provide consistency and certainty in these volatile times. Now is not the time for additional taxes or to promise billions of dollars in unfunded tax cuts which would add to inflation and take money away from health, education and housing.

"Our savings and revenue measures include the removal of depreciation for non-residential buildings. Our existing fiscal sustainability and effectiveness programme will lead to further opportunities for savings and repriorisations to ensure government spending is directed toward the areas and people who need it most."

In a statement, Labour said the multi-year capital allowance for the forecast period was $2.9b.

"At each Budget across the term, an additional $7 billion will be added to the multi-year capital allowance, with this already built into the Treasury's fiscal projections. This will provide space for business-as-usual capital investments as well as Labour's commitment to building an additional 6000 public homes during the current forecast period.

"Initial business case work for the Hawke's Bay Hospital will be able to be funded from the existing envelope in the health budget for capital projects. This business case will determine the amount of future capital investment necessary for the build - which will be covered by the expanding MYCA once a decision is made."

Labour has been criticising National's take on the economy as a "doom and gloom" campaign; National says Labour is the negative one.

The economy is a key battleground this election, with major questions hanging over each of their flagship policies. Despite economists' calculations suggesting National's tax plan has a roughly $530m shortfall more than a week ago, the party has so far failed to provide evidence debunking those calculations - or front up with its own.

The National Party will also release its fiscal plan later this week.

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