Today’s Budget will be only Part One of Labour’s two-part pitch for re-election.
Robertson is calling it a “no frills” Budget with the big vote winners yet to come.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson has repeatedly said any changes to taxation will not be in the Budget but in the party’s election manifesto.
And it seems there will be other new initiatives there too.
“I think we’ve got a lot of investments we’ve put in in recent times that you’ll see more and hear more about post-budget when we get into the election campaign, and we change hats,” he said yesterday.
“And it will be the Labour Party talking about what we’ll be doing.”
Robertson has to walk a fiscal tightrope today.
If he spends too much trying to address the cost of living crisis, he runs the risk of provoking Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr into further raising interest rates.
There was already speculation this week from Westpac that the Bank might now need to go from 5.25 per cent to 6.0 per cent because of current record immigration levels.
Anything that moved the figure even higher would surely precipitate a huge defeat for the Government.
Back in February, in the middle of Cyclone Gabrielle, Orr warned that any increase in spending to pay for the cyclone recovery could force him to raise interest rates unless it was accompanied by other spending cutbacks or increased taxation.
“Reprioritisation of current spending and revenue arising through other alternatives makes the job of monetary policy easier because it’s redirecting current income rather than creating new cash in the economy,” he said.
And then: “If they (the Government) chose reprioritisation and tax increases, then that does mean less increase in aggregate demand; less monetary policy pressure.”
Robertson has consistently ruled out any tax changes today, and Labour is in too precarious a political position to risk any widespread tax increases.
But there is growing support for some sort of wealth tax.
A Newshub-Reid Research poll last night reported 53.1 per cent support for a wealth tax and only 34.7 per cent opposition, with a relatively low 12.3 per cent undecided.
That sort of margin is getting near the level Labour might be looking for to promote it in its manifesto.
Robertson sounded interested last night with yet another reference to Labour Party election policy.
“My party hasn’t set its election policy yet, but this is a discussion that I think is important,” he said.
National, knowing that Labour can’t do it, l has been consistently calling on Labour to reduce income tax to take account of inflation.
But Leader Christopher Luxon, like Labour, is keeping his powder dry. He says National won’t release its tax cuts proposals until about a month before the election, and the party has had the chance to absorb the Pre-Election Fiscal and Economic Update.
ACT isn’t waiting and this week released a comprehensive tax restructuring plan which would reduce income tax for a person on $70,000 a year by 13 per cent.
Leader David Seymour dismissed National as simply being a “tweedledee” to Labour’s “tweedle dum.”; “same policies, different slogans.”
“We have two parties that don’t give you a real choice,” he said.
“Budget 2023 will also invest so that we can plan ahead. To be more secure in the face of whatever the world might throw at us next while growing a higher-wage, low-emissions economy. This will include skills, research and innovation, and infrastructure,” Robertson said.
Robertson argues that now is not the time to consider tax cuts because the infrastructure investment demands are so great.
He says Treasury’s Investment Statement last year estimated the cost of addressing the deficit and stopping it from getting worse at $210 billion over the next thirty years.
“I believe it is also crucial that New Zealanders are given certainty that their Government has the ability to make these investments,” he told an Auckland business lunch last Friday.
“This requires strong and resilient finances.
“Now is not the time to be putting that resilience at risk by undermining the Government’s fiscal position with unfunded inflationary tax cuts, which would take money away from the Government’s ability to step up and support communities by planning ahead.
“I can tell you today that on Budget Day, the Government will be taking further steps to fund investment in the infrastructure rebuild following the cyclone and floods, and, importantly, looking towards future national resilience projects to provide greater protection to communities around the country from the increased risks they face.
Robertson (and Hipkins) are aiming this Budget at the crucial, predominantly conservative middle New Zealand vote.
They will be hoping they can motivate at least some of the middle New Zealanders in the provincial seats like Hamilton or Palmerston North, who party voted Labour for the first time last election, to stick with them.
There are also likely to be some sweeteners for Maori to try and head off the strong challenge Labour is getting from the Maori Party.
But the real political-economic document will be the manifesto.