Zero budget matches the billing

02:40, May 24 2012

It was billed as a Zero Budget, and that's what we got. Although there is $4.4 billion of new operating spending flagged in the next four years, most of it isn't actually new operating spending.

Nor is it a change from the previous track.

The bulk - ie, about $3b - of new spending priorities announced today are reallocations of money from other uses, with only about $1.4b coming from revenue measures.

And those revenue measures are tweaks round the edges, with tobacco excise and closing loopholes accounting for most of the money.

The forecast new spending in coming years is also unchanged from last year's budget.

Even so, the outlook is a lot tougher than it was when Finance Minister Bill English delivered his speech a year ago.

Then he was forecasting an operating surplus of $1.3b in 2015 as the first year the books would be in the black since the financial crisis.

This year the forecast surplus in 2015 is down to just $197m, but it'll be a while before we make a dent in the government debt.

Among the culprits is lower taxation revenue - expected to be $66.3b in 2015 instead of the $67.6b forecast last year.

There are savings - interest costs, for example, will be down to $5.6b in 2015 compared to the previous forecast of $6.4b. But the saving is offset slightly by the loss of profit from SOEs - $270m in 2015.

English has done is best to present his 2012 Budget as a meaningful step forward, but in the current climate there is little room for manoeuvre without going for something big like a capital gains tax.