It's a very political budget designed to woo Labour voters - but it should, because the headline policy is actually quite good. I mean, who can complain about extending free primary health care and paid parental leave? It's a great way to spend $500m.
The big worry though, should be in Health. Ryall claims that health spending has reached "a record $15.6b". That's up about 5.4% from last year in real terms... except that $490m of that is refinancing costs (here and here). The trend for actual health spending is much more problematic - it's holding static for the forecast period, and once demographic changes and inflation is taken into account, it's actually falling by nearly 15% in real terms.
That probably won't *actually* happen. More money will be spent on health before we get to that point, but it's a reminder that health is a huge gaping maw that will swallow up a lot money - in case you were thinking about tax cuts already.
Speaking of tax cuts - jesus, are you guys for real? So I've had my head stuck in code all week (er, month), and haven't been paying attention, but it's become clear that the hints about tax cuts were dropped to remind the Gallery of their one true love: Budget items which translate directly into "How Much $$$ Will You Receive" headlines. And the bulges in the Gallery's pants were already starting to show in the Budget lock-up, which bodes poorly for the election. FFS GUYS, STOP BEING SO EASY TO MANIPULATE.
The other clear political message was that $1.5b of new spending was the *only* responsible amount to spend, and that if Labour/Greens promised more than $1.5b of spending, the terrible wrath of interest rates will fall upon us all. I'm taking this with a small pinch of salt.
Ultimately, I think this budget is fine, and National really is doing a reasonable job of managing the finances. I expressed doubts a few budgets ago them pushing the cuts to future governments, but here we are, they've actually worn the worst of the cuts. On the other hand, Bill English takes an awful lot of credit for the economic weather, and blames Labour for the same. We haven't had amazing growth because of National's amazeballs management of the economy - the economy doesn't magically sprout flowers because we hit a surplus target. We simply rebounded from EQNZ and the global economy recovered from the GFC.
More on this next week.
For bonus points: The Porcupine visualisation isn't quite ready yet, but all the data is there if you want to explore for yourself.