Todd unveils 'no surpise' budget
First balanced budget in four years

Total revenue:...........$1.164 billion
Total expenses:..........$1.155 billion
Surplus..................$9 million
Accumulated Debt:....... $65 million

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 03/97) - As predicted in last week's News/North, the territorial budget unveiled last Monday was, indeed, the "second blow".

However, if the budget goes through the legislature unchanged, and if the targets set in it are met, the territories will end up with an $8.9-million surplus by April 31, 1998.

That money will be used to pay down an accumulated debt of $65 million. As recently as 1992-93 the territories had an accumulated surplus of $56 million, but four consecutive deficit budgets have almost reversed the situation.

In the minds of some MLAs the goals set out in the budget are overly ambitious. The Deficit Reduction Act requires that the government balance its books by the 1998-99 fiscal year, and permits a two-per-cent deficit budget for 1997-98.

"Some individuals who are being laid off, or are in fear of being laid off, might be disturbed to hear that we're projecting a surplus," noted Kivallivik MLA Kevin O'Brien during question period Monday.

MLA Floyd Roland said the surplus will be particularly hard to take in his home riding of Inuvik, which a month ago received news that funding cuts mean the Delta House substance abuse treatment centre will close.

Todd noted the surplus was projected, and added that projection could quickly prove wrong.

"I wouldn't want anybody to get excited about a $9-million surplus. To give an example, if we had one bad year of forest fires it would be gone."

And Todd restated his commitment to balancing the books. "I don't care about the bloody criticism, I'm not leaving a debt for future generations," he said.

Meetings between finance department bureaucrats and their federal counterparts could go a long way toward contributing to the NWT's financial security in future years.

The meetings flowed from one earlier this month between Todd and federal finance minister Paul Martin. Todd was trying to impress upon Martin the importance of defining a limit for future federal funding cuts.

"We're cut to the bone, we're cut to the quick -- that's what I told Paul Martin when I met with him January 9th."

Cuts to federal formula financing will cost the government almost $60 million next year.

The territories relies on the federal government for 72 per cent of its revenue.