Treasurer Andrew Constance has pledged to return the NSW budget to surplus by 2015-16.
With one eye firmly on the March election, Treasurer Andrew Constance has avoided dishing out too many nasties in his first NSW budget.
The state’s number cruncher has pledged to return NSW’s finances to surplus a year earlier than expected and has promised more funding for vulnerable children and the state’s disabled.
Mr Constance said the budget measures would “turbo-charge” NSW, repairing the damage done by years of previous Labor governments.
“(Premier) Mike Baird joked to me yesterday that we’ve just received the car back from the smash repairs and we’re now going to drive it,” he said.
After only two months in the job, Mr Constance delivered a budget that lacked many genuinely new spending measures.
Instead, he confirmed how much the government would be spending on existing infrastructure projects, like the WestConnex motorway and the North West Rail Link.
He flagged the possibility of building the Northern Beaches motorway tunnel under Military Road, but would not go further than promising a feasibility study into the idea.
The budget put $400 million aside for the first stage of the Parramatta light rail project, although there are many question marks around the details of the project, including the route.
Mr Constance promised $1 billion to protect at-risk children and to prepare the disabled community for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Foreign property investors, who will now be denied access to the $5000 New Home Owner Grant, emerged as one of the only big losers in the budget.
In a budget speech focused on next year’s poll, Mr Constance said voters had a “clear choice” between Labor and the coalition when it came to partially selling off the state’s electricity distribution network.
The coalition is seeking a mandate for the plan, saying it will unlock $20 billion to be ploughed back into infrastructure projects.
Labor is opposed to the sale, fearing it could raise electricity prices.
Mr Constance confirmed the state’s finances had made a whopping $3.5 billion turnaround this financial year, posting a surplus of almost $1 billion in 2013/14.
That’s thanks largely to a buoyant property market and a $703 million federal government payment to NSW for the Pacific Highway upgrade, which arrived a little earlier than expected.
After this surprising albeit skewed result, the budget is expected to return to a $283 million deficit in 2014/15 but is tipped to be back in surplus from 2015/16 and beyond.
That’s a year earlier than Mr Constance’s predecessor and now-Premier Mr Baird predicted six months ago.
The improving finances are also due to proceeds from the government’s recent asset sales, including Sydney’s desalination plant and ports.
Opposition Leader John Robertson accused the government of failing to stand up to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s budget cuts and claimed the state budget fell $500 million short on health spending.
“That means more pressure on everyone who works at our hospitals, because the money is not there because Mike Baird has rolled out Tony Abbott’s cuts,” he said.