Finance Minister Bill English may have lived up to his promise there would be no lolly scramble in the Budget. It was more a solitary lolly to be shared among new parents. But there was plenty of fudge, cake, and a lot of pith as the politicians delivered their verdicts on his efforts.

Bill English has delivered an election year Budget which includes a bigger than forecast surplus, free doctors' visits for 400,000 more children, big cuts to ACC levies and dangles the prospect of tax cuts in front of voters. Finance Minister Mr English said the Government's much vaunted return to surplus would be $372 million, still slender but well ahead of the wafer thin $86 million forecast six months ago thanks to a rosier economic outlook.

Labour leader David Cunliffe began by taking aim at the surplus, designating the Budget a "Fudge-it Budget" because of the creative accounting needed to achieve a surplus. Spending was delayed on the Christchurch rebuilding, ACC levy reductions were held back for a year, and Auckland roading projects were funded by interest-free loans rather than spending.

"National calls the Fudge-it Budget 'steady as she goes'. Steady as she goes all right - just do not ask where she is going."

Mr Cunliffe then sought to have his cake and eat it too. He first of all claimed credit for much of the Budget, saying policies such as paid parental leave, bowel cancer screening and tackling kauri dieback disease were stolen in a blatant raid on Labour. Having done so, he proceeded to give the Budget a big thumbs-down.


In the meantime, Prime Minister John Key had discovered Mr Cunliffe had also stolen something - the fudge. He pointed out that the Fudge-it Budget line had been used by former Act leader Rodney Hide in 2002 to describe Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen's effort. He went on to claim Labour's alternative was more a letter to Santa than a credible effort. "Dear Santa, please could you bring me 4 per cent unemployment and whopping big future surpluses ... I will let the reindeer sleighs go in the fast lane even though I've banned the trucks."

NZ First leader Winston Peters also picked up the theme of sweet treats, saying the meagre offerings were "cake for cronies, crumbs for New Zealanders".

"Everyone from Balclutha to Beijing now knows the best blue chip investment to make in New Zealand is a donation to the National Party." He said it ignored the real crisis: foreigners buying properties.

Green co-leader Russel Norman was also suspicious of National's "faux surplus" - but not nearly as suspicious as he was of National's "Cabinet Clubs" fundraising groups. His moniker for the Budget was the "Cabinet Club Budget" which favoured National's buddies but not low-income workers or those in Christchurch. He used the words "Cabinet Club" 29 times in his 10-minute speech. He did at least wind up by painting an idyllic image of how New Zealand would be if the Greens were in charge.

But the best observation goes to Labour's Grant Robertson, who noticed the Government had abolished cheque duties and tweeted: "That'll turbocharge the economy. I expect to hear a rebate for cassette players and fondue sets next."

Herald economics editor Brian Fallow gives his thoughts on today's Budget