B.C. will be in the black for a third straight year after provincial finance minister Mike de Jong unveiled the budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Tuesday.
While there are a number of other items within the budget to be proud of, delivering a balanced budget is probably the biggest, according to Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.
“Since 2001, we have taken our commitment to manage the public’s money carefully and responsibly,” said Bennett. “It’s easy for politicians to give away the money that tax payers send us, a lot more difficult to say no when we can’t afford something and make all decisions on a principled basis.”
Bennett pointed out that between 1984-2005 that the provincial budget had only been balanced four times, adding that it lends perspective to the challenges of planning and remaining in the black.
De Jong delivered on his promise to eliminate a tax hike for high-income earners, which was a temporary measure introduced two years ago. NDP MLA Norm Macdonald, representing the Columbia River-Revelstoke riding, took issue with the move.
“Imagine what a billion dollars could do in education, on our highways, or in raising children out of property. But instead, if you earn a million dollars, Christy Clark is giving you a $17,000 bonus,” Macdonald said.
“It’s absolutely absurd. I met a veteran. He makes $13,000 a year on disability. And his disability is clawed back from his pension. A millionaire gets a $17,000 tax cut and this veteran doesn’t even make that much. It’s completely, completely wrong.
“We can’t fix roads, there’s no money. We can’t help with deer. There’s no money. But the government can take care of a very privileged group who don’t need the help.”
Budget 2015 forecasts an $879 million surplus for 2014/15, with a further surplus of $284 million in 2015/16. Budget 2015 includes an $800 million payment toward operating debt reduction.
Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce President Dave Struthers summarized the budget as, “Not a ground breaking day but good for an organization like ours.”
“We are the only jurisdiction in Canada that can lay claim to a balanced budget. Our debt to GDP is the envy of the majority of the western world. Our credit rating remains very strong providing significantly less expensive borrowing for capital project across requisite to advance the province,” said Struthers
David Hull, the executive director of the local chamber, noted that the BC Chamber has consistently called on government to balance its books.
“This budget continues to control spending while making modest investments into measures to help grow the economy,” said Hull. “We are able to balance successive budgets and are seeing the benefits as government puts part of projected surpluses towards paying off our operating debt.”
Bennett touts a diverse economy and points to industries such as forestry, mining, agriculture, tourism, oil and gas, high-tech and film and TV. In addition to the economy, Bennett said that the province has sought new markets in Asia rather than just relying on trade with the U.S.A.
According to the Economic Forecast Council, Bennett said that economic growth is predicted to average roughly 2.5 per cent over the next three years while the Conference Board of Canada forecasts that B.C. will be one of the top provinces for economic growth.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark campaigned on the promise of developing a trillion-dollar Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) industry, however, Bennett expects more progress on proposed LNG projects.
“There is no revenue from LNG factored into our forecasts,” Bennett said. “We expect final investment decisions from some of the 19 LNG proponents and with even one final decision, investment will be in the billions so BC’s prospects will even be better.”
Macdonald took issue with the progress on the LNG file, noting the industry was supposed to be an economic saviour by 2015.
“They promised the first LNG plant would be online by 2015 and it’s nowhere on the horizon,” Macdonald said. “And even after the first plant is up, it won’t produce revenue for seven or eight years. It’s clear now that none of it was true. There is nothing realistic about what the Premier says.”
Other budget items of interest include:
• A capital budget of $10.7 billion over 3 years, which will be for schools, colleges, hospitals and highways.
•For K-12 education funding—$106 million for 2015/2016, $216 million for 2016/2017 and $257 million for 2017/2018. The increase in funding will fund the new contract between the government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
•$12.5 million to the Canadian Cancer Society for a Cancer Prevention Centre
•$106 million to Community Living.
•$5 million to the B.C. SPCA to renew aging infrastructure.
•The lowest personal income tax in Canada on the first $120,000 of income.
•$20 million for income assistance.
With files from Carolyn Grant