This year’s Budget was definitely different. There was high drama and finger pointing over the early leaks. Pretty pictures have replaced factual financials. The Coalition Government has declared it the ‘Wellbeing Budget’ while the National opposition the ‘Botched Budget’. I am far more interested in what it means for our Nelson community than the political spin.
The most immediate effect of the Budget on Nelson households and businesses will be the increase in petrol tax by another 3.5c a litre on 1 July. The Budget legislation also adds another 3.5c next July. Road user chargers also go up. These tax increases push up costs on everything from groceries to building materials.
These tax increases will cost Nelson and Tasman another $10 million dollars. My problem is that the Government is at the same time reducing investment on State Highways by 70% including cancelling upgrades of our local SH6 in Stoke and Atawhai. We are paying more while congestion on our roads just keeps getting worse.
The Government’s talk about wellbeing is not matched by what is actually going on in our schools. The teacher’s mega-strike last week was the worst ever, and the disruption continues this week. The root cause is Labour promising 20% pay increases in Opposition and then refusing much smaller claims in Government. Teachers are also understandably angry when they see wasteful spending in areas much less important than children’s education.
I commend the increase in funding for mental health and drug addiction services that the Nelson community and I have been advocating for. We now need to ensure it is effectively delivered.
I worry about the overall funding for our District Health Board. Its finances were strong but have deteriorated significantly this year. I am seeing many Nelsonians whose surgery has been cancelled or delayed and this budget provides little relief. The number of operations being delivered nationwide is reducing for the first time in years.
The Budget is also a disappointment for Nelson Hospital. No provision has been made in the next four years for the critical major upgrade of our main hospital buildings despite their earthquake risk. We cannot keep putting this off.
Nelsonians struggling with housing get no relief. Waiting lists at Housing New Zealand have doubled and rents are up an average of $50 a week over the last year. The Budget fails to rescue Labour’s flagship Kiwibuild policy that promised over 1,000 homes in the first year but has delivered only 80 in 18 months.
The only tax reduction in the Budget is for racing and sports betting. I am at a loss as to how increased gambling contributes to improved wellbeing.
My greatest concern with this Budget is having no plan to grow exports, jobs and incomes. The economy was growing at 4% under National but has slowed to 2%. The Budget fills the hole by borrowing an extra $14 billion over the next three years. A strong economy that can fund improved health and education remains the best way to secure Nelson and New Zealand’s future well being.