Reincarnation of a long, lost fantasy world
Long, long ago in a government far, far away (OK, it was only Victoria), an intrepid finance minister named Mel Couvelier came up with the Budget Stabilization Fund.
The fund was created with the mindset that in years when revenues peaked sharply, transfers would be made to the fund. In years of revenue shortfall, transfers would be made from the fund. The government of the day’s objective was to avoid borrowing or cutting back from social programs while balancing the budget.
The knock against the fund was that it was more an exercise in creative bookkeeping to make it look like government coffers were always in the black.
It was soon dubbed the B.S. Fund, and for good reason.
Now, a couple of decades later, Premier Christy Clark and the Liberals have trotted out a reincarnation of the B.S. Fund.
The Prosperity Fund announced in Tuesday’s throne speech should have come with the usual full-page disclaimer that usually accompanies corporate statements: “This is a forward-looking document … and we take no responsibility for actions others may take based on the information contained therein.”
Budgeting for lean times, whether through a B.S. Fund, Prosperity Fund, or simply putting money in reserves, is a good idea.
The problem is that politicians who love those mega-projects can’t resist dipping into the pie so they can have their name on an edifice. Such funds would be a good idea, and would likely receive the support of the electorate, if there were strict conditions on where they could be spent and, perhaps, requiring a two-thirds majority vote in Legislature in order to spend them. Hold on, that would mean the Legislature would actually have to sit more than a handful of days per year.
Clark’s Prosperity Fund will be funded by royalties from natural gas projects that aren’t even on the books yet. To top that off, the Liberals haven’t been able to predict natural gas revenue accurately for the past 10 years so creating a fund on hoped-for revenues from a source they can’t accurately predict doesn’t really sound like money in the bank.
Plus, it won’t be in place until 2017 … good for a mention in four more throne speeches.
Five’ll get you 10 that, should the Liberals be re-elected in May, the Prosperity Fund will eclipse the Wood Innovation Design Centre for mentions in throne speeches without anything actually happening.