Finance Minister Colin Hansen's credibility already came into question this summer when he declared that he only started thinking about introducing a harmonized sales tax after the May 12 provincial election.
He claimed it would be revenue-neutral, which elicited guffaws from the NDP. The Opposition finance critic, Bruce Ralston, trotted out a C.D. Howe Institute paper purporting that the HST would bring in an extra $4 billion to the treasury over a three-year period.
Now with the latest budget numbers, Hansen has diluted his credibility even further.
Last February, Hansen introduced a budget forecasting a $495-million deficit this year, and a $245-million deficit in the following year.
It was based, in part, on the following forecasts:
* a $343-million increase in personal-income tax revenue
* an $89-million increase in sales-tax revenue
* a $95-million increase in B.C. Hydro revenue
This week, Hansen told reporters that the revenue numbers are short by $2.2 billion.
Corporate-income taxes and personal-income taxes are expected to be down by a billion dollars from the forecast in the February budget, which was introduced during the deepest recession in a generation.
The same is true of natural-gas revenues--another billion dollars short. And sales-tax revenues are off by about $200 million.
Chalk up another $400 million in additional B.C. government expenses, which adds up to $2.6 billion. Toss in the forecasted deficit, and we're over a $3-billion shortfall, if Hansen can be believed.
He'll bring in a budget next month that will deal with this new reality.
But how real are these new numbers?
Former finance minister Paul Martin was famous for overestimating expenditures and underestimating revenues, so he could look like some sort of miracle worker by the end of each fiscal year.
In the meantime, the poor always got hammered, losing housing programs, national welfare standards, and transfer payments to provinces that would have subsidized health care and education.
If Hansen has underestimated revenues from the HST, there's a chance that poor people in B.C. will get hammered unnecessarily.
These days, Hansen's credibility is in such a sorry state that the public might rightly ask, "Why should we believe his new numbers when his old numbers turned out to be such malarkey?"
With the fudge-it budget and the HST brouhaha, too many British Columbians no longer believe anything he says.
And pretty soon, people working at the bond-rating agencies might also stop believing what comes out of his mouth, either, which is why the premier should start thinking about finding someone to replace him.