Is our famously tight-fisted Finance Minister finally opening his cheque book to drive this economy through the dairy downturn.

As we head towards a crucial Budget on May 26 it certainly looks that way.

Bill English went big on Auckland housing issues in his "state of economy" speech today.

But the bit that out stood out for me was how close the one-time right-wing reformer came to using the magic word: "stimulus".

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"We can chose to invest when the need arises," English said as he talked about infrastructure and social investment and the Government having the "toolkit" to deliver better results for our communities.

Certainly in economic terms, if not social or cultural, National now seems to be occupying space closer to the Helen Clark, Michael Cullen regime than the kind of hard-nosed reform we saw from Jim Bolger and Ruth Richardson in the 1990s.

Still these are very different times.

This week even the typically conservative International Monetary Fund called for G20 governments to loosen the spending reins as the global economy slows.

New Zealand now seems likely to follow suit.

A cynic might say we are heading into the business-end of the political cycle and with the commodity slump dragging, the Government doesn't want to find itself with the low point of an economic cycle in election year.

That begs the question: do we have the firepower to stimulate right through this slump?
After years of chasing a surplus, albeit small and short lived, it looks like we probably do.

Historically this is the bit where Labour Government's turn up to spend the money.
National under John Key clearly has other ideas.

But it may also have some of the party's more neo-liberal supporters wondering if they haven't lurched too far to the left.

Read Bill English's speech notes here: