B.C. budget 2016 to tackle hot button issues
High housing costs and soaring MSP premiums are on the government's list of budget issues
For weeks, Finance Minister Mike de Jong has been dropping hints of what to expect in the budget.
It will certainly be balanced for the fourth consecutive time, with a focus on long-term growth, Metro Vancouver's housing market and breaks for some people in the province.
Here are five things to watch for:
Tracking housing ownership
The belief that Vancouver's red hot housing market has been driven by foreign ownership is a common one. But, at this point, the province does not actually track the nationalities of who is buying and selling properties. That is expected to change in Budget 2016.
De Jong has hinted that "there is an appetite for more information." The expectation is the province will require buyers to list nationality on land titles — information that would then be available to the public.
"We use to collect that information in British Columbia. I think in '98 that data stopped being collected," said de Jong, "but I think there's an appetite to acquire this sort of information."
Incentives for home builders
Metro Vancouver's explosive housing price increases have often been lamented by those who can't afford to get into the market. The province is expected to address that demand, in part, by providing extra incentives for first-time home buyers.
But the province is also trying to boost the supply side, and so the budget will likely include incentives to create more housing stock.
"There are two parts to this equation. One is doing what we can to facilitate people entering the housing market. That is the demand side. But if there is not an increase in supply more people vying for a finite supply will only drive the price higher," said Jong.
MSP Premium Changes
Changes are also on the way for people who pay MSP premiums. The province has already announced plans to adjust the funding formula for single parents.
Right now a single parent making more than $30,000 a year with two children pays $150 a month. De Jong will announce tomorrow a change to that formula where the same family will pay $75 a month starting January 1, 2017.
The province has also indicated further changes to MSP. That could include breaks for people on fixed incomes. Right now, everyone in the province who makes more than $30,000 a year pays the same amount.
"Here is the thing about the MSP system. It is antiquated. It is old, and the way people pay for it generally doesn't make a whole ton of sense, so therefore it is really hard to try and make the sensible changes that we need to do," said Premier Christy Clark last week.
But don't expect the overhaul Clark mentions. If that sort of change is to happen, it will more likely be in the 2017 budget or the campaign leading to the 2017 election.
LNG and that prosperity fund
It has been described as the province's rainy day fund. The government originally announced the fund would be worth $100 billion, flush with money from B.C.'s LNG sector. Now, even though the industry has yet to deliver, the government is still moving ahead with the fund.
De Jong says the government will start with $100 million and will continue to add to it if the LNG industry takes off.
"I think British Columbians are supportive of the idea that at a time that we are leading the country, that we would put just a little bit aside for a rainy day," de Jong says.
Going ahead with the fund in this budget is a change of direction for the province. In October 2014, de Jong said, "The ability to establish a Prosperity Fund is tied directly to the establishment of an LNG industry."
De Jong has also confirmed there will be no revenues in the 2016 budget attributed to LNG production.
Hiring new social workers
The province committed in December to a plan to provide more funding for the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Former deputy minister Bob Plecas conducted a review into the ministry and concluded the province needed to hire 120 more full-time staff in the next year.
Last week's speech from the throne provided some insight into where that money would be targeted.
"Besides cultural changes, your government is committed to maintaining the stability Mr. Plecas deemed crucial and hiring even more social workers than recommended," read the speech.