If the budget has not hit the headlines as hard as we might have imagined with only 10 days left in the fiscal year, it means only that Compass readers are leading the curve.
In its latest polls, the Compass asked: “The 2013/14 budget looms as the first major test for the new government. How will the debate play out?”
As the debate approaches, most poll voters believe it will transpire little differently than in years past, involving recriminations, finger-pointing, possibly name-calling and surely a series of bitter public exchanges.
The poll this week registered 341 votes, a modest response, but 99 of those ballots, 29.1 per cent, believed the political parties would blame each other for the shortfalls, imbalances and mistakes of the past.
“Same old, same old”, came one thought, anticipating protracted Legislative Assembly debates and, perhaps, déjà vu as the nation watches MLAs take their seats.
“Of course it will play out bitterly,” said another. “All these wimpy politicians can do is blame others for their own ineptitude.”
Something about well-dressed men and women seated in well-appointed rooms and offering phrases both windy and protracted, lends a sense of unreality to any debate. And when so much that seems so plain needs to be done with such urgency, the frustration of the voting public – nay, the public at large – becomes palpable.
Somehow, however, hope survives. While it may indicate the perennial human condition, a bold sense of optimism is offered by both the second-place and fourth-place finishers in this week’s poll.
While singly, the second choice among readers – “Smoothly: The priorities are clear after four years of economic struggle” – represents only 89 votes, 26.1 per cent of the total, and the fourth choice – “The Independents will force a fresh approach – garnered only 55 votes, 16.1 per cent of the total, together they comprise a solid majority of 144, a solid 42.2 per cent, far outpacing the naysayers.
The debate, one respondent indicates, will proceed smoothly, perhaps thinking wishfully, but admonishing us for that greater good to “stay positive and set a higher standard for our government”.
While no one cared to register their thoughts on the salutary effects Independents may have on the budgeting process, the votes speak in favour of change, looking toward a shake-up inaugurated by fresh blood and the voters’ sense of impatience, which produced both those Independent candidacies and the electoral support they attracted.
However, in between the two options reposes a third: “The budget will be again delayed,” drawing 85 votes, 24.9 per cent of the total, trailing No. 2 – “smoothly” – by a mere four votes.
A certain, if cynical, logic supports the third option, if only because of the unfortunate coincidence of timing that surrounds elections and fiscal schedules. A newly elected government must organise itself subsequent to its May election, then turn immediately to the legally mandated 30 June fiscal deadline, reviewing and rebuilding a tentative budget left by the previous administration.
Even last year’s budget was delayed until early autumn, and the UDP administration had not faced any elections, only a series of stern warnings and financial proscriptions set by London.
In that vein, commented one respondent, we can “blame the previous government, then blame the UK, then blame the global economy”. The remark is not entirely unwarranted; naming the usual suspects – not to say “culprits” – in the process. To be fair, however, budgeting for the public sector is a complicated process of advance and retreat.
“The credit card is maxed out. No matter how much Alden prevaricates, the bank manager is not going to raise the credit limit, especially now the $250 million bond debt is coming closer. The only difference is that you can’t go to the next bank and open another card,” opined another voter, looking toward Premier Alden McLaughlin and a consolidated public debt that is already overwhelming.
The fifth and final option, labelled “other”, is frequently the most disarming, drawing candid, frequently acerbic, responses, not often kind or generous.
“It will play out like a game of chess between idiot savants, minus the savant part,” opined one critic, clearly less than sanguine regarding our legislators, no matter their party.
Among the more thoughtful remarks, however, was a sense of the impersonal nature of geopolitics and the powerful bureaucratic interests inevitably involved in national fiscal planning: “I’m not sure if it will be delivered on time or it will be delayed. I’m not sure if it will be bitter or civil and objective. I think it will be a little more serving to the people and unfortunately more subservient to the UK.
“This is sad, but true,” the respondent said. “ It is evident already in the most recent signing on the tax agreement with the UK. I feel more like a stepchild than a favourite.”
In that sense, another observed that “the politicians are not the only ones to make financial decisions”, while still another blamed the 2005-2009 PPM administration and its then-Minister of Education Mr. McLaughlin: “The PPM caused the country’s economic problems four years ago, so we hope they can stop spending without a business plan to pay for it (the schools).”
Finally, one comment indicated as much frustration with the Compass as with government’s budgeting process, saying “this is a silly hypothetical set of questions. Why not wait to see how they get on? Or maybe get a palm reader if you prefer it.”
No one can say, of course, what is likely to happen; the readers’ poll is not scientific, intended only to elicit opinion, perhaps gaining a small sense of what people think. Everyone is invited to contribute.
Next week’s poll question:
On 2 July, the Grand Court will receive Tara Rivers’ affidavit detailing her employment and residency details during the years. Is the challenge to her justified?
No, the law is flawed, Ms Rivers is quite capable and the challenge impedes important business.
Yes, the law is critical to good order and the challenge proper.
If successful, the challenge will backfire, sparking resentment against the UDP.
Good or bad, the challenge will force politicians to think twice when they find the law “inconvenient”.