NO SURPLUS FOR YOU: Debt and deficits until at least 2020

VOTERS worried about the government's books will have to wait until 2020-21 for a surplus under either major party.

But the aim of reaching surplus - used in several recent campaigns to bolster claims of responsible economic management - usually plays second fiddle to voters' own hip pockets.

The Coalition has pledged corporate tax cuts extending to all companies over a decade. Labor wants it to apply only to small businesses with annual turnover of $2 million or less.

The government has also pledged a tax cut for some middle-income earners by upping the income tax bracket from $80,000 to $87,000, as well as scrapping the extra 2% tax rise on those earning $180,000 or more.

Rejecting that approach, Labor has instead tied its political future to halving the discount on capital gains tax to 25% and restricting negative gearing to new homes from July 2017.

With the Coalition rejecting any change on the housing tax front, investors in that market will likely back the government. Those struggling to get into the market may look to Labor.

Across superannuation, welfare, childcare and paid parental leave, both parties have adopted a smaller-target strategy - promising to refer most issues out for a "review" rather than fronting voters with concrete plans.

What is clear is the Coalition will target welfare to boost its budget repair aims, including $2.3 billion in "savings", and press on with measures that have repeatedly failed to pass parliament.

Labor has reversed its position on several welfare payments, endorsing a Coalition plan to cut annual Family Tax Benefit supplements while maintaining most other existing social services payments.

Social services groups argue the approach from both parties will continue the cycle of poverty for the nation's poor who have had virtually no increase to Newstart and Youth Allowance for several years.

On the budget, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stressed a "national economic plan", centred on the tax cuts, to try to grow the economy.

But Labor Leader Bill Shorten, focused on health and education as two key selling points, has been at pains to explain how the Opposition will pay for various measures.

In reality, we face two more elections and the vagaries of 10 years of economic change before it becomes clear whether either party's budget pledges have delivered the goods.