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Sask. mixes cuts with spending hikes
Published Wednesday, March 21, 2012 3:46PM CST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:48AM CST
Saskatchewan tabled a balanced budget Wednesday that calls for fiscal belt tightening across all government departments while boosting overall spending by 4.7 per cent.
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz says the budget follows through on promises the government made during last November's election, and aims to maintain the province's strong economy and balance sheet.
The budget projects nearly $11.3 billion in revenues and about $11.2 billion in spending, for a surplus of $95 million. The province's debt is estimated at $3.8 billion – the lowest level in 25 years.
Saskatchewan's rainy day fund is forecast to finish the year with a balance of $756.4 million.
Krawetz said the government is making responsible choices while other jurisdictions face financial trouble.
"Saskatchewan is the first province to table a balanced budget this year. It is balanced in the General Revenue Fund. It is balanced in the summary financial statements," he said.
"Balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility are helping keep our economy strong."
Health spending will increase 4.9 per cent to $4.68 billion. That includes a 3.5 per cent operating increase for health regions. Overall capital expenditures will jump 32.4 per cent to $788 million, while municipal revenue sharing will increase 9.5 per cent to $237.4 million.
However, with those spending hikes come several austerity measures.
The budget seeks to trim spending across all government departments. Health regions, post-secondary institutions and school divisions are also being asked to look for savings within their operations.
In addition, the provincial drug plan will charge an additional $5 per prescription for children and seniors starting Wednesday – a move the government estimates will save $10 million.
And for the first time two decades, the province is increasing the Senior Citizens Ambulance Assistance Program deductible. On April 1, the deductible will increase by $25 for an estimated savings to the province of $675,000.
The government is also eliminating the equivalent of 500 full-time jobs, but says that will be done through retirements and managing vacancies.
The province also plans to save $8 million by winding down a tax credit for film and television production. Meanwhile, funding for regional economic development will be cut for a savings of $4 million.
The Opposition NDP says the Saskatchewan government is nickel and diming people in the new provincial budget.
"The Sask Party's ... giving something on one hand, but they're taking it and taking it and taking it again," said Finance critic Trent Wotherspoon.
Wotherspoon notes the government is reducing northern fire crews by 20 per cent -- a move that will save $400,000. He says it's a small savings that comes with a big human risk.
Other budget highlights include:
• $581.5 million in spending on highways and infrastructure
• $88.7 million for 21 previously approved major school projects
• $60.5 million to perform 8,000 additional surgeries and reduce wait times
• $42.7 million to start construction of seven previously announced long-term care facilities
• $17.8 million to increase the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability benefit and expand the number of clients to 10,000 from 3,000
• A $16.9 million increase for the Saskatchewan Cancer agency to support access to services and cover rising drug, operating and medical costs
• $5.5 million in additional funding for the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) helicopter ambulance
• $4.6 million to provide new high school graduates with up to $2,000 toward tuition fees at any Saskatchewan post-secondary institution
• $4 million to expand the colorectal screening program across the province
• $3.5 million to boost the Senior Personal Care Home Benefit to $278 a month. That amount is expected to rise to $369 a month by 2015
• Increases of up to $50 a month to the Seniors Income Plan benefit starting in July, with annual increases of up to $10 a month over three years
• $3 million to expand the Active Families Benefit to include all children up to the age of 18
• A new rental housing construction initiative that provides a 10-year rebate of corporate income tax equal to 10 per cent of the expected rental income from new multi-unit residential rental projects
• A new first-time homebuyers' tax credit of up to $1,100 against Saskatchewan income taxes owed
With files from The Canadian Press