Sask. projects $1B surplus, will use cash to pay debt instead of further funding boosts
Saskatchewan is projecting a $1 billion surplus in the coming year and plans to spend just as much in paying down the province's debt.
At the same time, as outlined in the provincial 2023-24 provincial budget, the Saskatchewan Party government plans to boost spending across the board, including more money health care and education.
While the government says the nearly seven per cent increases in health care and education funding amount to record spending, the province's NDP opposition argues that it falls short of what is needed — as the increases only cover the cost of inflation.
When speaking to reporters during a news conference held prior to the release of the budget, finance minister Donna Harpauer was adamant that withholding spending in favour of servicing Saskatchewan's debt is the right move.
"The question goes to why didn't we spend the billion dollars and I've spoken to this a number of times and I'm still very firm on this. We have to be very careful as a government to not take one-time revenue and incorporate it and bake it into our year-over-year operational costs," Harpauer said, pointing to the volatile nature of the resource revenue that comes from potash, uranium and oil.
"If that surplus is due to one-time revenue, be very careful because if you put it into health care, and then you say 'just kidding' the following year because the revenue isn't there," Harpauer said.
The further reduction will save the province $44 million annually in interest payments, according to the government.
While the budget does not include tax cuts or widespread affordability measures such as the $500 cheques the province sent to residents last year, Harpauer said the lack of new taxes and the province's already low tax rates will help address the cost of living.
When speaking to reporters Wednesday, NDP leader Carla Beck called the budget "wildly out of touch" with the needs of people in Saskatchewan.
"If you're a parent who's struggling to make ends meet every month, this budget doesn't help you. If you're young students learning in an overcrowded classroom, hoping for an investment in your future. This budget, it doesn't help you," Beck said.
"And if you're a healthcare worker working short, burnt out and hoping that the government will finally listen to medical doctors over their own spin doctors and make bold investments and stabilize our health care system. This budget, it doesn't help you," Beck said.
In its new budget, the Saskatchewan government earmarks $6.9 billion for the Ministry of Health.
The government will spend $98.8 million to help recruit, train and retain health care workers — an increase of $82.7 million compared to the previous budget,
More than half of that money, $55.5 million, an increase of $44.9 million over last year, will be devoted to recruiting for 250 full-time positions and expanding part-time positions in rural and remote areas.
Also included in the budget is $42.5 million for the "largest volume of surgical procedures in the history of the province."
The Sask. Party government says the money will lead to an increase of 6,000 surgeries, with a total of 103,000 surgeries expected to be performed next year in an effort to address the current surgical backlog.
The health spending outlined in the budget also includes $19.8 million for 36 more acute care beds at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and 28 acute care beds at Pasqua Hospital in Regina.
MONEY FOR EDUCATION
The government plans to spend $3.1 billion on schools, early learning and child care, and libraries.
Of that money, just over $2 billion will be devoted to operating costs for Saskatchewan's 27 school divisions, a roughly 2.5 per cent increase compared to previous spending.
A significant chunk of federal money is also included in the province's planned $382.4 million spending on early childhood education — with $298.2 million of the cash coming from the feds.
The money will make good on a previously-announced plan spearheaded by the federal government to lower child care costs to $10 a day.
Also included in the government's planned spending for education is $23 million to bankroll the new Saskatchewan Distance Learning Corporation, which the government says will streamline online learning in the province.
Building or renovating schools also figures heavily in the province's education spending with $147.3 million dedicated for projects such as new Francophone schools in Saskatoon and Prince Albert and upgrades to Campbell Collegiate in Regina.
The government also plans to dedicate $1.43 billion for the Ministry of Social Services, a 3.4 per cent increase to its budget.
Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) clients will receive higher monthly payments and Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) clients will receive $30 more per month.
The Personal Care Home Benefit will also rise by as much as $400 per month, the government says.
The Sask. Party government also has money set aside for its nascent provincial policing initiatives, $7 million for the Saskatchewan Marshals Service and $3.2 million for its Warrant Enforcement and Suppression Team and Crime Reduction Teams.
The government also plans to open a ninth international trade office, in Germany, as part of its 2023-24 spending.
–This is a developing story. More details to come.
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