The irony verging on absurdity of budget politics could not have been more obvious. Even before the pro-establishment legislators said 'yes' to the government's spending plans early on Thursday, they had set up meetings with the financial secretary to discuss post-budget relief measures. At a meeting the following day, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong put forward a HK$14 billion package which it said could create 13,000 jobs. More will follow: independent Paul Tse Wai-chun this week, the Liberal Party next month and the Federation of Trade Unions in June. Tradition has it that the passage of the Appropriation Bill, as budgets are legally termed, marks the end of the annual budget cycle. The process normally begins in autumn with a series of sessions with lawmakers, after which - and having assessed economic and financial conditions and the merits and demerits of a long list of expenditure and revenue proposals - the financial secretary writes his speech setting out immediate fiscal measures and medium- and long-term strategy. No budget can please anyone; just look at last year's HK$750 billion giveaway budget. Opponents can easily pick out weak points on which to score political points. That last week's budget vote saw a record 22 'No' votes and the beginning of a round of post-budget bargaining on another relief package says something about the dilemma and vulnerabilities of the administration in the political tussle over the budget. Although Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has stressed that the money the government has set aside for relief measures since last year is a historically large amount, he made no secret in his budget speech of his strategy of saving bullets for tougher economic times ahead. One school of thought at the time was that Mr Tsang was bent on keeping considerable ammunition so his boss, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, can take the credit for more giveaways in his next policy address in October. Now that the financial secretary has begun a fresh round of talks with certain legislators on relief measures, speculation is rife that the government will announce new measures in June. That would address some of the public's grievances ahead of the annual July 1 anti-government march, some pundits say. It is not just that the measures the financial secretary announced in his speech in February fell short of the public's expectation; the failure of John Tsang and his team to provide a convincing, credible case for their budget decisions has put them in a politically precarious situation. With expectations raised and talks with their allies in the legislature under way, it looks certain the Tsang team will have to deliver further substantial relief measures by June for Legco to pass them before its summer recess. Regardless of what is announced, pan-democrats and some in society will see a conspiracy in any additional pre-July 1 relief measures. It is unlikely any post-budget package will be that substantial. Its practical and psychological impact is in doubt. Worse still, the suggestion of a July 1 factor behind it could backfire and bring more people onto the streets to vent their frustrations with the government. There is no denying that the flawed political system has undermined the governance of the administration. But it is equally clear that last year's Wall Street meltdown has not hit Hong Kong as hard as 2003's severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak. Having gone through two economic downturns since the handover, Hong Kong people have become more mature and resilient as they brace for a more severe economic storm. The maturity of the government and lawmakers, and their ability to seek compromise on the budget, leave much to be desired, and that bodes ill for the tougher challenges ahead.