Caution: Red ink!
14th Assembly's first budget unveiled tomorrow

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jun 19/00) - Put on a pot of coffee and dust off the calculator, it's budget time.

Tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 p.m., Finance Minister Joe Handley will present the 14th legislative assembly's first budget.

Though the draft budget -- it's a draft until reviewed publicly and approved by the assembly -- will be kept under wraps until Tuesday, MLAs have been going over it with a fine-toothed comb for more than a month, questioning ministers about the budgets for their respective departments.

"I didn't find the tone of the committee particularly critical or negative or anything like that," said Handley. "I think they were trying to be helpful."

Handley has offered hints in the past of what to expect.

In February, he said it is likely the government will spend more than it takes in this fiscal year, which runs from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2001.

On Friday, he said nothing has changed his mind about that since then.

"We haven't gotten a cheque from the federal government, despite our efforts on non-renewable resource strategy development," said Handley. "Nothing has changed substantially in the last six months."

Earlier this year Handley predicted that by the end of the fiscal year, if no savings measures were introduced and current programs and services were maintained, the NWT would be within $20 million of the $300- million debt limit imposed on it by the federal government. The accumulated debt, made up mostly of long-term borrowing by the NWT Power Corporation and NWT Housing Corporation, stood at $234 million in February.

Once approved, the budget will replace a mini-budget approved at the end of March. The mini-budget leaves little room for major changes.

Because it included most of the year's construction work and contracts the government renews on a yearly basis, the mini-budget accounted for almost half of the spending the government will do this year.