Thursday, February 08, 2018

Budget for 2018-19

The budget represents a setback to the fiscal consolidation process, something in which the NDA government has invested a lot. It isn't the revenue side that is a problem although non-tax revenue (dividends from PSUs, transfer of surplus from RBI) has disappointed. The main problem is on the revenue side. RE expenditure is 2.6% of GDP for 2017-18, higher than the projected 1.9%. Government establishment expenditure (such as pensions) is higher than expected. The compensation to states for GST loss is also imposing a large cost and this is to continue for a five year period.

At the end of the day, we are looking at a combination of  around 7% growth and a fiscal deficit of 3.5% of GDP for a three year period starting 2017-18. Not the happiest of situations to be in for the economy especially given that the world economy is buoyant. The situation could get worse if global economic growth is adversely impacted by a fall in asset markets.

So, what's the way out? Well, the budget papers provide a clue. The tax/GDP ratio of 11.6% in 2017-18 after having stagnated at around 10% of GDP since 2008. It is projected to rise to 12% and above in the coming years. Greater tax revenues provide a hope for a a turnaround in the economy- we can spend more while containing the deficit. And increased tax revenues will come not so much from growth as from tax buoyancy- better compliance, more people coming into the direct and indirect tax net, thanks to demonetisation and GST.

If this is how things play out, Modi will have been proved right in respect of both demonetisation and GST- the long-term benefits of these will have outweighed the short-term costs.

More in my article in the Hindu, Goodbye to fiscal consolidation.

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