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Here's what we could see in the 2023-24 provincial budget

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The long awaited 2023-24 provincial budget will be unveiled in the Legislature on Wednesday afternoon, outlining the government’s taxation and spending plans for next year.

While the details of the budget won’t be revealed until finance minister Donna Harpauer rises in the House around 2:15 p.m., political and economic experts weighed in on some possible directions the budget could take.

University of Regina (U of R) political scientist Jim Farney said he expects an interesting balance act in this year’s budget.

“Budgets always balance between priorities and we've seen the paper in the last week, kind of calls for resources to go to health and education,” he said. “Those aren't things you can just drop $100 million in for one year. Those are long-term commitments, and so those are the two things that I think they're going to have to balance."

Farney said he could see more long-term investments and bigger moves saved for the next budget.

“One thing they could do is kind of advance a couple of big infrastructure projects, but I don't expect it to be a really dramatic budget,” he said. “I don't expect that will be what we'll see this time.”

Although some of those bigger moves could be saved for next year’s budget, Farney said some issues could be pressing enough to appear in this year’s.

“Just thinking of it politically, not just in partisan terms, they will be trying to save some of the big news for then, but I do think there's enough like in health care, in education, in social services. There are enough real pressing needs, they're going to have to make some real investments,” he said.

There is talk about this year’s budget producing a surplus, and Jason Childs, economics professor at the U of R, said it would be nice to see some debt paid down.

“The short of it is paying down debt is always a really good idea, particularly in an environment of rising interest rates. We’re seeing a lot of negative pressure on the bond market right now so further borrowing is likely to be expensive into the future, and not having to pay interest is always a good thing,” he said.

Saskatchewan residents saw $500 affordability cheques last year as part of the government’s four-point affordability plan.

“I could see them going there [again],” said Farney. “In policy terms, I think a lot of fair debate about whether or not that was a good idea. In political terms, it was pretty popular.”

Childs said there would be a bigger problem if the government goes down that route again this year.

“How do you meet the spending needs and affordability needs of people who are depending on you without leaning on those windfall revenues that are going to disappear at some point? They’re not going to be there forever, so if you build it into program spending, you’re borrowing trouble from the future,” he said.

The NDP opposition said affordability in Saskatchewan remains a priority and hopes the budget will address that.

“We have windfall revenues that this province has been sitting on. We’ve seen the reality though for Saskatchewan people and families and local businesses and it’s been anything but. It’s been a period of terrible hardship, incredible cost of living increases and whole lot vulnerability for local business and households,” said NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon.

“We’re calling on this government to step up in a meaningful way and to address the cost of living that is causing so much hardship for Saskatchewan people.”

Wotherspoon said education should also be highlighted.

“We need to see an investment into our kids’ classrooms,” he said. “What our children have endured over the last decade and what our teachers have and educational assistants that are out there working everyday, is wrong.

On Tuesday, Harpauer offered a brief preview of the budget at the legislative building, and said the surplus will be substantive with no tax increases or decreases.

She said this year’s theme will be ‘Growth that works for everyone.’

“In the past, as everyone knows, we had the $500 affordability tax credit that was for everyone. In this budget, you’re going to see more targeted supports that isn’t necessarily for everyone,” she said.

Harpauer described health care spending plans as aggressive.

“Very strong and aggressive health budget to address the pressures that we are all hearing in health,” she said.

Public expectations may be high given the anticipated size of the provincial surplus but the government appears to be headed toward a conservative fiscal approach.

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