An astonishingly high projected budget surplus for New Brunswick last year is now officially even higher.
Final audited financial statements for the 2021-22 fiscal year show the province recorded a $777.3 million surplus, a never-before-seen result.
The province's last projection for the year had been for a $487.8 million surplus, and originally the March 2021 budget was calling for a $244.8 million deficit.
In other words, the province's fiscal position ended up more than $1 billion better than originally expected.
"We're not scared to spend money when it's strategically spent." - Ernie Steeves, N.B. finance minister
And while that money is on the books for last year, and can't be spent this year, Finance Minister Ernie Steeves told reporters the Higgs government is looking at opening its wallet to give more help to people affected by inflation.
"Given our strong results, our government is going to build on this momentum by focusing on strategic investments to address inflation, to address housing pressures, to address reducing taxes and to address Internet service for all of New Brunswick," he said.
"We're not scared to spend money when it's strategically spent."
He said the Progressive Conservative cabinet and caucus has met several times in recent weeks to talk about additional help on housing and homelessness and "we're headed in that direction."
Steeves said the possible measures haven't passed cabinet yet so he couldn't talk about them in detail.
He also said the government was looking at how to accelerate its phasing out of provincial property taxes on secondary properties, what it refers to as a "double tax" on apartment buildings.
Liberal MLA René Legacy said he was "shell-shocked" to learn of the large surplus in a year that saw so many different challenges where extra spending might have helped.
"I'm absolutely a proponent of budgetary surpluses but somewhere there has to be a proper balance," he said.
Legacy predicted "more of the same" this year. The province is projecting a $135.5 million surplus so far this year.
The black ink means the province's net accumulated debt was slashed by more than $1 billion in a single year, dropping from $13.5 billion to $12.4 billion.
Officials said higher than expected revenue from personal and corporate income taxes, as well as the harmonized sales tax, were responsible for the good results.
But much of that extra revenue was already accounted for in the $487.8 million surplus projection earlier this year.
They said federal transfers for COVID-19 equipment came in higher than expected, and there was more revenue than expected from sources such as N.B. Power and timber royalties, while expenses for injured workers benefits were lower than expected.