Population growth, land sales help boost ACT budget bottom line
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Population growth, land sales help boost ACT budget bottom line

Population growth and the territory government's aggressive land sales agenda has boosted the ACT's coffers by $82 million this financial year, helping halve the 2017-18 budget deficit to $41 million.

The territory government's mid-year budget review, due to be released publicly on Tuesday, has shown a $45 million increase in Commonwealth GST revenue this year, thanks to updated 2016 Census quantifying population growth at about 7000 extra ACT residents.

Population growth and an aggressive land sales agenda has brought ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's hope of a budget surplus a little closer this year.

Population growth and an aggressive land sales agenda has brought ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's hope of a budget surplus a little closer this year.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But the government's bottom line was also boosted by an extra $20.7 million in dividends and income tax equivalent payments linked to land sales in the Jacka 2 subdivision, Kingston and the Hume industrial estate.

Across the board, the boost to territory coffers has brought down the $83.4 million deficit this year, as estimated in last year's budget, to $41.5 million, with the latest estimates predicting an $11 million surplus in 2018-19, compared to the $9.7 million predicted last year.

The review also suggests the government's land sales agenda - often criticised as prioritising revenue over housing affordability - will not be slowing down any time soon.

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It estimates a further $26.2 million in land sales related revenue for 2018-19, before falling to $9.4 million in 2019-20 and up again to $80.4 million in 2020-21.

The government has also announced several new initiatives funded in the review, including more funding for elective and general surgeries, an extra $50 concession on utility bills for some residents and funding for a health data warehouse.

Those new initiatives will cost taxpayers an extra $19.9 million overall, supported by the overall revenue boost, while $117 million worth of capital works projects that were unspent this year have also been rolled over into future years.

The review also shows the government "re-profiled" $40.9 million worth of capital projects from 2017-18, with $35.9 million of that funding to be spent in 2018-19 and a further $5.4 million in 2019.20.

While funding has been moved around, largely small movements of funding from one year to the next, spread across the whole capital works program, many projects have kept to the overall completion dates as estimated in the budget.

But the review does show the completion of some projects has been delayed by at least another financial year.

Among those where completion has been delayed until 2018-19 were the Aikman Drive duplication and Gundaroo Drive stage one duplication.

The updated capital works program also shows that only $179,000 of the $600,000 meant to be spent on the government's much-touted electric bus trial in 2017-18 will be spent this year, with $421,000 reallocated to 2018-19.

Similarly, the entire $2.1 million allocated for a new ACT-wide bus and light rail ticketing system was moved from this financial year into 2018-19, possibly due to the complexity of the associated procurement.

Funding for the City Renewal Authority's "Canberra's lakeside" project was also delayed, with only $1 million of the original $7.5 million of works for 2017-18 to be spent this year, with the remainder pushed back to 2018-19, increasing that year's spend on the project from $15 million to $21.5 million.

The government maintains such "re-profiling" changes were largely due to weather conditions and other delays last year, that should not affect the overall timeline to have the projects completed.

Correction: This article previously stated funding for the Cotter Road duplication between Tuggeranong Parkway and Yarralumla Creek had been delayed. That funding has actually been brought forward to 2017-18.

Daniel Burdon

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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