I’m writing to you from the media and analyst “lock-up” where Treasury just presented its Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update.The Update, which the Public Finance Act requires of Treasury just prior to every election, lays bare the Government’s books and include the latest projections on debt, spending, and the economy. This is the first proper update we’ve had from Treasury since the Budget way back in May.In short, Treasury is projecting at least 15 years of deficits, unemployment to remain elevated for some time, and our economic recovery to be slower than previously expected.

Mood in the room
Understandably, the room was sombre. Journalists targeted the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson with questions on accelerating house prices and inequality, while analysts in the room noted the substantial increase in projected debt over the next decade.On debt, the Minister was defensive. He tried to argue that he was unwilling to introduce austerity-style cuts to New Zealand, but didn’t present a plan for New Zealand to get out of our looming 15 year debt spiral. More explanation will be needed from Labour if they want to remain credible on the economy.

Deficits With economic growth expected to be weaker in the next four years than previously forecast, Treasury is now projecting deficits right out until the end of their projection range in 2033/34. This is a change from its forecasts at the May Budget – when Treasury had expected we would return to surplus by 2027/28.

The result for taxpayers: net crown debt is expected to be $269.3 billion – or $149,600 per household – in 2033/34. That’s up from the $132,700 per household forecast at the Budget in May.

Weaker long-term economic recovery
The latest forecasts indicate unemployment is expected to remain persistently high. While unemployment is not expected to spike as aggressively as Treasury forecast in May, peak unemployment (of 7.8%) is now not expected to arrive until March 2022 – so the economic pain for some households may continue to intensify for the next 18 months. Previously unemployment had been expected to be down at 6% by March 2022.

But worst fears for 2020 avoided 
At the Budget in May, the economy had been expected to contract by 24% (on an annualised basis) in the second quarter of this year, but Treasury now expects the contraction to be smaller at 16%. We will find whether that’s accurate tomorrow when Stats NZ release the official numbers. Treasury are attributing this smaller contraction to the Government’s wide-spread (and expensive) wage subsidy scheme and a faster than expected bounce-back from national lockdown.  In the near term that is having an impact on deficits, which are generally not as high as Budget forecasts in May. These better-than-expected near-term forecasts are reflected in the labour market – the fear of unemployment reaching 9.8% in the third quarter of this year hasn’t borne out.

Conclusion
With so much deficit spending, the Taxpayers’ Union’s message of fiscal prudence and ensuring quality government spending is more important than ever. Today’s numbers provide alarming context to the questionable lolly-scramble announcements being made on the election campaign trail.You can read Louis’ comments to media here: 
“Decade of deficits” are a national crisis
Thank you for your support,
Joe Ascroft
Economist
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union