It was the Expenditure Report from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that told us this is the tenth budget in a row in which the State has borrowed money to meet the day-to-day costs of running public services.

For Budget 2017 the gap between revenues and expenditure – the deficit – is expected to be €1.25 billion.

The White Paper on Revenues and Expenditure, which sets out the opening position before budget changes, projected a deficit of just €240m, or 0.1% of GDP.

So the effect of the budget day changes was to push up this borrowing by a billion.

Still, it is a drop from this year's deficit figure, which is now expected to turn out at €2.4 billion, or 0.9% of GDP.

In 2017, the headline deficit target is set at 0.4% of GDP.

Budgetary projections published yesterday say the deficit will be 0.3% or €820m in 2018, before becoming a small surplus of 0.2% or €540 million in 2019.

In 2020, the surplus should grow to 0.7% or just over €2bn, rising to €3.7bn or 1.1% in 2021.

In terms of the difficult to quantify structural deficit, the Department of Finance estimates it will meet the terms of the Medium Term Objective of a balanced budget in structural terms by the end of 2018.

This is defined as a structural deficit of not more than 0.5%.

Once this is met, more money can be spent as part of the budget, rather than being set aside to reduce the structural deficit.

That is why it won't really pay to be in government until 2019, or better still 2020, when there should be a lot more fiscal space to play with.

Under a rule called the expenditure benchmark, spending is only supposed to grow in line with the economy's growth potential (unless it is fully paid for by new measures).

Since 2015, spending has grown by an average of 3% a year, and is set to do so again in Budget 2017.

This is lower than the rate of growth in GDP (to deal with the structural deficit reduction rule).

By contrast, the DPER report reminds us that in the early years of this century, spending growth was consistently high, with typical growth rates of 10% or more in spending between 2000 and 2008.

The report says: "Over this period, on the basis of unsustainable growth in tax revenues fuelled by the economic boom, there was an unprecedented doubling in Total Gross Voted Expenditure from €26bn in 2000 to €62bn in 2008."

This was followed by a series of spending cuts between 2010 and 2014.

While spending increases are now back on track for three budgets in a row, and there has been some targeted income tax reductions through USC rate cuts, the other big budget issue is debt.

It hasn't gone away, you know.

DPER reminds us that "it will be necessary to run primary budget surpluses (surplus of income over expenditure before interest on debt) for a number of years to come in order to ensure that Ireland's debt remains on a firm downward trajectory" towards the 60% Maastricht limit.

Thanks to the big helping hand from the "Leprechaun Economics" effect of the new statistical rules for compiling GDP, Ireland is on track to meet this target just after 2021.

But the Government took a significant step in the Budget by setting a new long-term debt ratio of 45%.

There has been a fair bit of debate in economist circles about the "right" or safe level of debt in a small open economy like Ireland's.

Bigger, more closed and more stable economies take time to tip in to a debt crisis, but economies like ours or Luxembourg or Estonia are more vulnerable, and carrying a high debt level is dangerous.

Even carrying a 60% level is dangerous in a country where rapid collapses in revenue and consequent rises in borrowing are a feature.

Remember, we went into this crisis with about €30bn of debt, the bank bailout cost €64bn, but today we owe just over €200bn.

If it were not for the bank bailout it is probable we would have escaped a Troika bailout programme, but only because we had such a low debt/GDP ratio to begin with (circa 26%).

The Expenditure report says: "Reducing the public debt further will help make the fiscal position more robust, protect against Ireland's disproportionate openness to external economic shocks and the potential for increases in the interest rate paid on government debt over the medium term from current very low levels."

Which is a point we tend to forget – interest rates will go up.

This super low interest rate environment cannot last for the foreseeable future. Indeed the ECB's bond buying programme is formally supposed to end in March – it is likely to be extended, but not forever.

Debt costs will eventually rise, and the less debt you have to service, the better.

The consequence of having to borrow lots of money in 2009 and 2010 is that we have to pay back all those ten-year bonds in 2019 and 2020 – and these are now the peak years for debt repayment in the NTMA repayment profile, with some €34bn due for refinancing in those years (€22bn in 2020).

This compares with about €6bn due next year.

The decision to set a new long-term debt ratio target of 45% sends a signal to financial markets that this country will continue to run a tight ship well into the future.

The Central Bank called for just such a move in its latest bulletin, published last week, saying Ireland is particularly exposed to risk and uncertainty, especially from Brexit, because of the legacy of high public and private sector debt levels.

"In this regard", wrote chief economist Gabriel Fagan, "a prudent fiscal strategy remains essential given the feedback loops between financial stability, fiscal stability and macroeconomic stability".

He said that to underpin a strategy of prudent budgeting, it would help if there were long-term targets that reflect the risk profile of the country and anchor annual budget decisions.

If financial markets believe you are good for the money, and are committed to a long-term debt reduction strategy, they won't mind lending to you in the short term when you need a dig out.

Or in Central Bank-speak: "The greater the commitment to attaining such targets, the more it would be possible to run a flexible, counter cyclical fiscal policy in response to temporary shocks."

Building up the capability to run a counter cyclical fiscal policy is probably the most important medium-term budget objective.

Setting a long-term debt target is part of that, to enhance credibility with lenders, and so keep interest costs low (they amount to 14% of tax revenues this year).

Re-committing to the establishment of a "rainy day fund" - a counter cyclical instrument into which the government will commit €1bn a year of fiscal space from 2019 on (after the structural balance has been attained) is a more short term element in making the public finances more resilient in the face of shocks.

And Brexit is the most likely shock on the horizon.

The more resilient the public finances become, the less likely the need to impose drastic cuts and tax hikes in the face of the next downturn.

Which means the depression will be less deep, the damage less severe.

These are significant steps in protecting the people of Ireland from malign economic developments.

They are of far more consequence than the trimming of USC, a fiver on the pension, or €50m of cash bribes to induce house-builders to build houses.