It doesn't seem all that long ago when Budget announcements brought lots of surprises.
During the Celtic Tiger years, when cash was plentiful, there was a "something for everyone in the audience" mentality which often pervaded the budgetary process, as successive ministers doled out cash to all and sundry.
Then came the financial crash, austerity and even supplementary budgets, accompanied by a feeling of dread about what bad news budget day might bring.
The subsequent years of confidence and supply government though, combined with rules imposed by the EU, have made the budgetary preparation process far more open.
That, combined with the usual plethora of media leaks, mean that before the Minister for Finance ever takes to his feet in the Dáil chamber (or in this year’s case the Convention Centre), we usually have a pretty good idea about what is going to be said.
So with delivery of Budget 2021 now less than a day away, what can we expect to be in it?
The overall package - We expect the overall budget package to be in the region of €20 billion, with €14.5bn of that already pre-committed to spending arising from Covid-19 supports and other policy decisions taken in previous years. It will be the largest budget package in the history of the state.
Income tax - We know for sure there will be no changes to income tax, USC or PRSI, either up or down, because the Government has already said this. Despite the desperate need for more revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic, politically this isn’t the time to put up personal taxes, nor can the Government afford to decrease them.
But there also may not be any indexing of the bands, with the result that more people could end up paying tax who previously weren’t and others will end up paying at the higher rate.
Social welfare - Not much is expected by way of change to the main social welfare rates like the old age pension. Money may be put aside though to allow for a delay in the planned increase of the state pension to 67.
Carers - there may be something extra for carers though, with an increase of €150 per year reportedly on the cards.
Living Alone Allowance - There may also be an extra €5 per week for Living Alone Allowance recipients.
Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) - As the intensity of restrictions around the country increased in recent weeks, the Government has come under significant pressure to restore the PUP payment levels to their pre-cut amounts.
It looks unlikely that will happen in the Budget. The Government may, however, still commit to pushing the expiry dates for both the PUP or EWSS out further beyond the spring, to give people dependent on the supports more certainty.
Sources indicated though that this decision may not be taken in the budget tomorrow. There may also be changes made to allow the self-employed earn a certain amount without having to give up the PUP in its entirety.
Christmas Bonus - A one-week Christmas bonus is expected to be given to all welfare recipients. This includes those in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, provided they have been getting it for a minimum of four months. Ordinarily social welfare Christmas bonuses are only paid to those who have been receiving the payment in question for 15 months.
Help-to-Buy - The expectation is the enhanced Help-to-Buy scheme will be extended beyond the planned year end. It entitles first time buyers purchasing a new house or apartment to relief of up to €30,000.
Carbon Tax - In last year’s budget, the rate of carbon tax was increased by €6 per tonne to €26. In line with the Government’s climate targets, that is now expected to be increased further by €7.50 per tonne next year. This will lead to a €1.47 increase in the cost of a 60 litre fill of diesel and €1.28 for a similar amount of petrol, as well as add 90 cent to a bag of coal and 20 cent to a bale of peat briquettes.
Fuel Allowance - An increase in the Fuel Allowance is likely to help offset the above among vulnerable groups and the elderly, with €3.50 more being suggested.
VRT - Well-flagged changes to Vehicle Registration Tax, to disincentivise people from buying large diesel cars and go green with electric vehicles, are also now thought likely to be introduced. The VRT change will also have knock-on impact on motor tax for existing car owners.
Cigarettes - A packet of cigarettes could increase in price by up to 50 cent.
Alcohol - Duties on alcohol do not seem set to increase.
VAT - It seems likely that the temporary reduction in the VAT rate from 23% to 21%, will be let expire at the end of February as planned. However, it also looks likely that the VAT rate for the hospitality sector will be cut to 9% from 13.5% for a period, as it was a few years ago.
Business Supports - A fund of up to €3.4bn is expected to help businesses large and small who are in financial difficulty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and a possible no-trade deal Brexit.
Compensation scheme - It is thought likely that there will also be a rebate scheme to provide compensation to sectors that have to shut down completely due to Level 3 restrictions, through weekly or monthly payments.
Entertainment sector - The budget package is also set to feature a significant live music and entertainment package in the range of tens of millions of euro. Venues would receive a minimum grant of €10,000 to help subsidise ticket costs as they deal with reduced attendance due to social distancing.
Employment agencies - Employment creation agencies, such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland are set to receive extra funding.
Commercial rates - Commercial rates for some businesses will continue to be waived for the last quarter of the year to give struggling firms further respite.
Training - An increase of 15,000 retraining places in further and higher education is expected particularly targeted at young people, where the unemployment rate has rocketed in recent months.
Taxis - Licence renewal fees may be waived and there could be improvements in the scrappage scheme to help taxi drivers.
Health - Health will take a large portion of the Budget day package. Additional spending of €4bn has been agreed including a reported €1.6b in funding for new measures such as beds and staff and €2bn for Covid measures.
Capital spending - We already know that the Government plans to increase capital expenditure by €1bn to €10.5bn next year.
Housing - There are indications it will be the biggest ever investment in housing, coming in at €3.3 billion. 12,750 new homes will be added to the stock of social housing of which 9,500 will be built. The remainder will be added through targeted acquisition and long term leasing. Measures aimed at making homes affordable for first time buyers and renters will also be included in the budget.
Parental Leave - Up to 3 weeks extra optional paid parental leave is also on the table.
Education - Up to 400 special needs teachers and 1,000 special needs assistants could be hired.
Gardaí - The hiring of 600 new gardaí and 500 garda staff next year is expected. There is also likely to be funding to quickly purchase 70 new vehicles after gardaí were reliant on rented cars during the pandemic.
Of course there will be plenty more in the budget speeches and the devil will be in the detail.
And don’t forget the old adage, that 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'.
- Additional reporting Robert Shortt, Mícheál Lehane and Sandra Hurley