Well, the dust is settling from the April 11th 2019 Ontario provincial government budget and it is time to spend a little more time looking at some of the details in spending. There are many stories in the media about assorted cuts coming down the pipeline, but it remains that overall spending is up and projected to continue rising though at a much lower rate. Indeed, as discussed in my previous post, total spending is expected to rise from $162.5 billion in 2018/19 to reach $164.4 billion representing an overall increase in spending of 0.6 percent. This of course is a much lower growth rate in spending than was the case under the previous government.
What is more interesting is what a more detailed analysis by ministry expense category reveals. Approximately two-thirds of ministry expense categories are expected to decrease while one-third have actually experienced an increase. Table 1 lists the ministry expenses by ranked percentage increases whereas Table 2 does it by ranked expenditure decreases. Increases in spending range from 550 percent for the Treasury Board Secretariat Capital Contingency Fund to 0.5 percent for the Training, Colleges and University Base Budget. Despite what may seem to be very large increases for the Treasury Board Secretariat they are on amounts that represent less than one percent of total spending. With respect to the Treasury Board Secretariat, the government also notes that: “The Province has put in place a prudent Operating and Capital Contingency Fund housed in the Treasury Board Secretariat. This fund is the main driver of the increase in the Ministry’s 2019–20 budget, in addition to an increase in employee pension benefits paid.” (Ontario 2019 Budget, p. 298). Other increase of note also include Infrastructure (Base) (261%), Total Transportation (10.9 %) and Interest on the Debt (6.4%).
It should be noted that Health and Long-Term Care and Education (Primary & Secondary) together represent in 2019/20 a total of $95 billion or about 60 percent of the spending total. While there are changes within both these categories underway designed to create efficiencies it remains that Education is going to grow by 2.6 percent and Health by 2.2 percent. It is fairly simply math to realize that if categories representing 60 percent of government spending are going to grow by over 2 percent when total spending is growing by 0.6 percent, then there are going to have to be reductions in many other categories which account for the other 40 percent of spending.
Here the list is much larger (therefore two tables) and some of the percentage increases also larger. Reductions range from -0.4 percent for the base budget of Municipal Affairs and Housing to -67.1 percent for Natural Resources and Forestry Emergency Forest Fire Fighting. However, the total budget for Natural Resources and Forestry is declining by -19 percent while the base budget is declining by -3.2 percent. While the Total Budget for Training, Colleges and Universities is declining by -6.1 percent, its base budget is actually growing by 0.5 percent while the student assistance component is declining by -33 percent.
To its credit, the provincial government has embarked on what appears to be a pretty substantial review and restructuring of government spending in all categories. Within expenditure categories it is choosing what to increase – albeit at a lower rate than in the past – and what to substantially reduce. Some categories have been hit immediately with some large reductions. Some of these reductions include the winding up of one-time funding and therefore appear quite large for the coming year which is why a comparison of base budget rather than overall totals might be more appropriate. However, the ultimate aim appears to be a substantial restructuring with priorities being selected. It would appear the priority is to deal with the province’s fiscal situation while ensuring that overall budgetary cuts do not occur particularly in the key areas of health and education. Indeed, all things considered, the transfer partners in the municipalities, universities, schools and hospital sectors (MUSH) have gotten off relatively lightly. This naturally means larger declines in the remaining 40 percent of government spending. It cannot realistically be otherwise.