The country is all a-buzz with speculation that, having listened to the voters for the last few weeks, and having applied Sudocrem to all affected areas from the experience of the election itself, the political class will suddenly be able to reverse the process of austerity begun under the previous government. (The process obviously continued, in lock step, by the current one).
The latest ESRI quarterly commentary makes the point that the government’s finances are improving at a slightly faster than expected pace, meaning we may hit the Troika-mandated 3% deficit target without serious adjustments required in the forthcoming budget simply by relying on existing forward momentum and the action of automatic stabilisers. Of course they hedge their bets a bit, but given the importance of the issue I thought I’d quote a bit of the commentary:
The public finances are improving more rapidly than envisaged in the government’s plan. If the forecast in this Commentary proves to be correct, government borrowing in 2015 is likely to come in below the target (3 per cent of GDP) once again, even without the substantial further cuts envisaged for the 2015 Budget. However, in formulating fiscal policy it is best to err on the side of caution to ensure that budgetary targets are met in 2015. Nonetheless, these developments suggest that, after a long period of attrition, we are approaching the end of the very painful period of fiscal adjustment. However, there still remains the possibility of new shocks to the economy.
So does that mean the government can run out and renegotiate, renew, de-re-up on their promises to the Troika? I think the ESRI are saying the promises can be met without additional austerity, with a fair wind.
This may not spell the end of the consolidation period, however.
(Updated, thanks to Rossa White for this clarification) The NTMA’s investor presentation has the best graph of what’s supposed to happen in 2015’s budget. In budget 2014 the government agreed about 0.9 billion in revenue cuts and 1.6 billion in expenditure cuts, but the composition of the 2015 adjustment of around 2 billion (as per the recent SPU) hasn’t been outlined yet.
So while it isn’t clear that this last bit of austerity can be avoided just yet, it is pretty clear that (however constituted) the government will try hard not to implement the last few billion of cuts, especially if the 2014 August and September returns are looking good.
I think the question is, given the need to respect the 3% constraint–and please let’s not give any credence to headbangers talking about renegotiating the MoUs, etc., at this stage–what exactly the government will try to do to signal to the public the austerity period is effectively over.
The answer will define the legacy of this government. As Kevin notes this morning, at the last general election, the public voted for change, they got none. They are asking for it again, and much more clearly this time.
Michael Noonan has signalled since the last budget that altering tax bands is on the cards, saying.
If I have the money that is where I will go. I would like to reduce the threshold at which people hit the higher rate.
Fair enough, and this widening of tax bands does make sense as long as funds allow, and perhaps a tweaking of the USC, but the question politicians are asking I’m sure is will this be enough to appease the public?