Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday February 26, 2016
Ontario’s budget deficit for 2016 shrinks
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced Thursday that the province’s budget deficit has shrunk more than expected and that the Liberals are on pace to return to a balanced budget by 2017-18, even as net debt is set to increase in that timeframe.
Sousa said that the deficit is now down from the $7.5 billion projected at the end of last year to $5.7 billion, as stronger economic growth in Ontario boosted government revenues. The budget forecasts that Ontario’s economy grew 2.5 per cent in 2015, a much stronger level than the 1.2 per cent forecast for the national economy.
But net debt will go up as the government continues to borrow to fund projects, including a massive $160 billion infrastructure project over the next 12 years. Net debt is set to increase to $326.8 billion in 2018-19, from $296.1 billion in 2015-16, even as the Liberals are set to have a balanced budget by then.
The projection that Ontario’s debt will continue to rise and that debt-to-GDP will continue to hover near 40 per cent in the medium-term will not thrill debt rating agencies. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the province’s debt last year, while others such as Moody’s Investors Service have placed a negative outlook on provincial bonds.
Ontario’s deficit will also be helped by $1.1 billion gained from the sale of Hydro One, as well as growing cash injections from the federal government, which will hit $24.6-billion this year and rise to $26.6-billion by 2018.
Sousa dismissed the idea of further debt downgrades, however, saying a declining debt-to-GDP ratio would be welcomed.
“I believe credit agencies are going to look at this budget and realize that we’re achieving what we said we’re going to do,” he said during a news conference.
The government has said it has a target of reducing net debt-to-GDP to its pre-recession level of 27 per cent, though it gets no where close to that level in its projected forecast, with net debt-to-GDP hitting 38.5 in 2018-2019. The ratio is expected to peak at 39.6 per cent in 2015-16, remain level in 2016-17 and only begin to decline in 2017-18.
The government is projecting that total revenue in 2015-16 will be $2.2 billion higher than the 2015 budget had factored in, due to “higher asset optimization” and more tax revenue as a result of a stronger Ontario economy. (Source: Financial Post)