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Opposition parties skeptical over budget promises

Members of Nova Scotia’s opposition parties have greeted the latest budget forecast with skepticism, and say it sounds like the provincial Finance Minister is preparing for an election.

Graham Steele announced Tuesday the province will end the fiscal year with a smaller-than-expected deficit, and promised the next budget will include a small income tax cut.

Steele said details would be revealed when the budget is tabled on April 3.

But Liberal finance critic Diana Whalen is dismissing the promise, saying the NDP is getting ready for the campaign trail.

“We haven’t seen that cut yet, we don’t know if it’s even going to come,” she said. “This is the same government, I think it’s worth remembering that, prior to being elected, had promised not to increase any taxes. We’ve had two years of increased fees and taxes.”

The opposition parties have called on the Dexter government repeatedly to lower the HST by two per cent, reversing an increase implemented in the New Democrats’ first year in power.

Steele says that can’t happen, but promised the income tax reduction would make a “real” difference to the average Nova Scotia family.

PC party leader Jamie Baillie says any tax break is good, but he has reservations.

“I think Nova Scotians need and deserve some tax relief, I’m not going to question that,” he said. “I think it would actually be more responsible to balance the budget first and then look at cutting taxes. I believe the NDP has that exactly backwards.”

It’s the third year in a row that the budget has come in ahead of projections, and Baillie says that calls the validity of the projections into question.

He says the pre-budget forecast is nothing more than an “expensive public-relations exercise.”

“The government presents a statement that shows that just about every department is below it’s own budget,” he said. “I think Nova Scotians would be rightly skeptical of that.”

Steele says he is still committed to balancing the books in 2013, but Whalen says he’s not saying how that will happen.

“I think there were a few things missing from the presentation, and one is the discussion around the deep and sustained cuts to health and education,” she said.

A release from the Liberals on Tuesday claims the only way to balance the budget is by cutting more than $200 million from social programs like health and education.

School boards and health authorities in Nova Scotia have already been warned that their funding will be reduced this year.