Careful cuts with little room for error: Willis’ first Budget

“This year’s Budget is the clean-up job New Zealand needs” – Nicola Willis

At last, the tax cut tease is over, the full details on full display. The Budget’s headline was only ever going to be tax cuts – and they arrived almost exactly as promised.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis kept her promise, but will voters thank her?

The tax package was almost identical to what National campaigned on, excepting a slightly delayed start date, and no change to Working for Families abatement thresholds, a promise abandoned in coalition negotiations. 

What people receive varies widely depending on their circumstances. Treasury suggests about 730,000 households will get at least $75 a fortnight and about 190,000 will get at least $100. Fewer than 3000 will receive the much-publicised $252 maximum. 

Pensioners are in line for just $4.30 every two weeks.

Willis is adamant she did not borrow for the $14.7b tax package – but keen observers will note $12b in new borrowing for the total Budget. 

She insists the tax cuts were “fully funded” through cuts across the public sector and some revenue measures.

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About two-thirds of new spending went towards health, education, and law and order, but those core areas also show signs of strain.

The biggest broken promise was the lack of Pharmac funding ring-fenced for 13 specific cancer treatments. Willis promised that was yet to come – but the next two Budgets are looking very tight with allowances of just $2.4b in new spending. Treasury officials estimate that won’t even cover regular inflation and wage pressures.

The opposition labelled it a Budget with misplaced priorities: tax cuts over public services, landlords over first home buyers, promises ahead of prudence. 

But this Budget mostly does what the government said it would: some tax relief, some spending, some savings. Willis will consider that a success, though it carries risk too: try to please everyone and you may end up pleasing no one.

In this week’s Focus on Politics, Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch examines the first Budget of the coalition government.

Listen free to Focus on Politics on Apple Podcasts, on  Spotify, on iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts. 

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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