Mixed reviews on provincial budget
The Progressive Conservative 2013 provincial budget has been tabled and has been met with mixed reviews.
Among those to respond is Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw. He is critical of the budget, and has several pointed arguments against the government’s plans to handle its debt and deficits.
Alberta is facing a nearly $2 billion deficit and is borrowing about $4 billion to pay for capital infrastructure projects, for a total shortfall of more than $6 billion in 2013-14.
“We’re back into debt. It took a generation to pay off Premier Getty’s debt and it’s going to take another generation to pay off the $17 billion that’s going to be racked up by 2016. It’s troubling because there’s no plan on how it will be paid back. In the last five years, there’s been record revenue, and despite a strong economy, and low unemployment we have a deficit. It’s shocking that we’ve squandered the wealth. There should be no need to go into debt in a province like Alberta,” says Saskiw.
Following the release of the PC budget, the Wildrose announced a financial recovery plan meant to eliminate deficit by 2014 and keep Alberta out of debt. The proposed plan promotes spending limited to inflation and population growth.
“Our recovery plan is meant to eliminate government waste, trim bureaucracy and management, hold the line on wages, invest in infrastructure, and protect frontline workers,” explains Saskiw.
Genia Leskiw, PC MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake said it is a “tough budget, but a realistic one.”
She said, despite the deficit and continued spending on infrastructure, the government is still committed to saving, by putting a portion of resource revenue back into the Heritage Trust Fund.
In order to do that, Leskiw said the government will need to find ways to increase resource revenues.
“One way to (increase revenues) is to open up to new markets. That, along with investing in families, education and health care are priorities for this government.”
She said cuts had to be made, but at this point in time, investing in Alberta is still a priority.
“It’s hard to please everyone. On one side they call for more cuts, on the other they say we are cutting too much. We did our best to make the responsible decisions when it came this budget.”
One of the biggest priorities of the PC budget in 2013 is healthcare. The money allotted for healthcare has been increased by three per cent, to $17.1 billion. The health budget is slated to rise to 45 per cent of the government’s operational spending.
The budget calls for a $262 million investment in Primary Care Networks, Family Care Clinics, and addiction and mental health services. According to the Alberta Government, such investments are meant to ensure people can access primary health care as easily as possible, wherever they are, and at whatever times they need it.
“We are increasing our budget by half a billion dollars, reflecting the fact that health care is a top priority for Albertans and for the Redford Government,” explains Fred Horne, Minister of Health, in press release form the province.
“Yet, this budget also reflects our intent to do things differently - to spend smarter, to achieve better health outcomes for Albertans and to deliver better value to taxpayers. I am confident we can improve our health system while ensuring its sustainability at the same time.”
Another big expenditure in the budget is geared toward building Alberta’s economy by marketing its resources more efficiently, and making more money by selling resources at higher prices. Five million dollars is to be spent in the interest of boosting the energy resources, such as oil and gas, so the province can sell in global markets like the United States and Asia.
“Getting our resources, especially oil and gas, to new markets means getting a much fairer price for our products. We are working aggressively to expand market access for our energy products, whether it involves expanding current pipeline capacity, developing new pipelines or moving product by rail,” says Energy Minister Ken Hughes, in a press release from the province.
Funding has been decreased for programs that include the Community Facility Enhancement Program, a program that fosters community growth through lottery revenues, and Alberta Culture’s Other Initiatives Program, an alternative grant and funding program. In some cases funding has been suspended; for example, the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP). In some cases, the program was shut down completely, as in the case of the Community Spirit Program, a grant program for non-profits and charities.
“Cuts always hurt,” says St. Paul Mayor Glenn Andersen, when asked for his thoughts on the budget. “One good thing is that MSI isn’t changing. We’re an agricultural community and need municipal stability. MSI is important for that purpose.”
Funding for the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) will remain at $900 million this year allowing municipalities in the province to continue to support their infrastructure.
“The budget has the biggest impact on the County of St. Paul in two big ways,” explains Reeve Steve Upham. “Funding for the local bridge grant is being cut, and so is funding for the resource road grant. At this point we’re going to have to review larger road projects.
Upham agrees that the continuation of MSI funding is important.
“One good thing is that MSI funding is still going to be available.” And despite the cuts to the resource road grant, government funding is still committed for a current resource road project that the County is undertaking, says the reeve.
Another program Upham is concerned about is a cut in funding to the Water For Life Program.
“Funding from that program has been providing clean water to small communities with water quality issues,” says Upham, and the county is one of the municipalities that has benefited from the program.
Upham says the province will be reducing funding by $100 million.
The county has accessed the grant for projects such as the waterline running from the St. Paul water treatment plant to Elk Point and the Ashmont to Lottie Lake water project. Neither project is completely finished. The county is also looking at providing Mallaig with water once the Ashmont water treatment plant is upgraded.
“Those projects are funded by the Water for Life Program and need to be completed. There will be consequences if funding is cut. There is a large portion of the budget in place, and we need to make sure these projects are covered,” says the reeve.
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