The Assembly finance committee has been told that a hard budget restraint would help "smoke out" the Executive's real spending priorities, on 1 December 2010.
Victor Hewitt of the Economic Research Institute of Northern Ireland made the comment during an evidence session on the spending review and budget 2011-2015.
Mr Hewitt said there had been a tendency to downplay the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) but it would be wrong not to recognise it as a major watershed.
Commenting on the Executive's reaction to the CSR, he said he would not be surprised if there was protection for the health budget but he warned about the possible result of protecting such a large chunk of expenditure.
"The amount of room for manoeuvre you would have if you ringfenced health would be seriously reduced," he said.
Mr Hewitt also spoke in favour of lowering the rates of corporation tax in Northern Ireland. He described this as a "game changer".
John Simpson, an economic consultant, asked the committee to consider if it was better to continue to employ 95 people at reduced pay or 90 people at full pay.
He made a range of suggestions, arguing in favour of the removal of the only set of traffic lights between Dublin and Larne harbour, the ferry port in County Antrim. The lights are a source of traffic delays on the Westlink ring road in north Belfast.
Mr Simpson also argued in favour of a more ambitious approach to further education to improve skills.
The committee then had a briefing from department of finance staff on the December Monitoring Round.