Earlier in the year the Irish Government spelled out what the EU rules on Exchequer expenditure meant for the 2016 Budget; the fiscal space available was around €1.3bn, which could be used to fund tax reductions or spent. That figure then became a €1.2bn to €1.5bn range, with the Coalition indicating a probable 50/50 split between additional expenditure and tax cuts. What is now clear, following the overnight release of the White Paper on Receipts and Expenditure, is that spending will be substantially higher than initially planned in 2015, thanks to a spree over the final few months of the year. Essentially, the authorities are choosing a deficit of 2.1% of GDP instead of the 1% figure that might have been achieved.
Tax receipts were originally expected at €42.3bn this year but by April the Department of Finance had revised that figure up by €1bn, and it soon became obvious that the outcome would higher still. Finance now expect €44.6bn or €2.3bn (5.4%) above the initial target. Non-tax receipts are also stronger than forecast, by some €0.4bn, thanks to higher profits at the Central Bank, while savings on debt interest provided an additional windfall for the Exchequer.
The Government now plans to spend most of that unexpected bounty. Voted current expenditure ( essentially day to day government spending) was projected to fall to €38bn in 2015, from €39bn in 2014, and has been running marginally below profile year to date, coming in at €29bn at end-September. Spending could therefore amount to €9bn over the final three months of this year to hit the Budget figure. The White Paper shows that spending will now end the year at €39.5bn, which implies €10.5bn will be spent in just three months .
The capital deficit is also larger than it appeared likely, at €1.7bn, with money transferred from the Exchequer to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. Consequently the Exchequer cash deficit ( current budget balance plus capital balance) is now projected at €2.8bn, with the General Government deficit ( the EU’s preferred fiscal measure) at €4.4bn. Finance has also revised up its forecast for Irish GDP this year, to €210bn, so the deficit equates to 2.1% , substantially below the initial 2.7% target but also well above what might have been achieved had the Government chosen to adhere to the initial spending plans.
As to 2016, Finance expects current receipts to rise by over €2bn and expenditure to be broadly unchanged, resulting in a current budget surplus, which alongside a modest capital deficit gives an Exchequer cash deficit of only €0.8bn.The General Government deficit is projected at €1.9bn, or 0.8% of projected GDP. There is an argument that the economy does not need any additional stimulus ( GDP is deemed to be operating at 2.5% above potential by the EU) but it appears unlikely that the 2016 Budget will not use the available fiscal space of up to €1.5bn, taking the post-Budget deficit forecast to €3.4bn or 1.5% of GDP. On our estimates this would imply a structural budget deficit of 2.6% ( i.e. taking account of the economic cycle and the official view that we are in a boom) against a 2015 outturn of 3.2%, so the decline would be above the 0.5% required under EU rules.