COMMENTIF, AS the polls predict, this is Eric Roozendaal’s last budget, he has gone out with a whimper. Devoid of big new spending measures and nasty new taxes, the Treasurer’s second full budget is marked by its ordinariness.In a word, it is unexciting; but deliberately so: it is a pre-election budget, but not as we know it.At his press conference yesterday Roozendaal was at pains to paint himself and his Labor government as fiscally responsible managers. The pitch: NSW has weathered the global financial crisis better than any other economy and now it is time to rebuild the budget bottom line in preparation for any future economic turmoil.The problem is few will believe him. With an election just around the corner and a couple of state assets up for sale, no one believes the Keneally government will resist the temptation to spend up big to do what they can to avoid an electoral massacre.With an eye to the March election, the Treasurer has not forgotten to spend some money in the right places to look after some of the government’s mates.In his budget speech to Parliament, he avoided any mention of the generous poker machine tax cut that was leaked to sections of the media last week. Then it was pitched as a measure to help struggling country pubs. In reality, the introduction of a $200,000 tax-free threshold on poker machine profits will deliver a gift to an estimated 60 per cent of pub owners in NSW, including some already raking in millions of dollars annually.Members of another influential industry, the property developers, had been lobbying hard for the measures they received. In the end, the government went further than even they expected, with a two-year program of stamp duty cuts.They might have enjoyed top billing as the important centrepiece of the government’s recovery measures, but the reality is that the measure will have limited impact and comes relatively cheap.The main stamp duty cut will cost the government only $60 million a year while the package is estimated to deliver a modest 8000 new homes.In between the assorted scandals and ministerial resignations that dominated state politics before the budget, the government has been busy playing down expectations. It turned out to be telling the truth.But whether we can believe the rhetoric about continued fiscal responsibility until the March election is entirely another matter.
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