Alberta Tories unclear on balanced budget promise

Alberta's finance minister is forecasting a balanced budget for 2013 despite his associate minister suggesting otherwise.

Alberta's finance minister is forecasting a balanced budget for 2013 despite his associate minister suggesting otherwise.  

Doug Horner said next year's provincial budget will be balanced as the premier has promised.

The province has run multibillion-dollar budget deficits since heady financial times crashed with the global recession of 2008.

The government has used billions of dollars from its sustainability fund to avoid sinking deep into debt.

Premier Alison Redford has repeatedly promised a balanced budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but associate finance minister Kyle Fawcett said Wednesday it might not happen.

"We haven't decided one way or the other," said Kyle Fawcett. "There's going to be some decisions we make throughout the process and that will lead up to the budget in the new year.

"What we are committing to is balancing the operating budget."

The operating budget covers day-to-day spending but does not include billions of dollars for infrastructure such as roads, bridges and schools.

That promoted quick reaction from the Wildrose opposition.

"That's like saying my budget is balanced because I paid all my bills except my mortgage and car payments so those are extra but I've balanced the rest of it," said MLA Rob Anderson.

"I'm shocked to hear what the associate minister is saying because it does sound like their commitment now is only to balance the operating budget which of course is balanced now and has been for years.

"Obviously they intend on breaking this promise."

The Tories run the risk of draining the sustainability fund and putting the province back into debt, said Anderson.

But Thursday morning Horner maintained that the province will have a balanced budget come spring.

"Any payments that we're making on our (construction projects) will be included in that balancing situation."

Earlier this year the government forecast a balanced budget with surpluses of nearly $1 billion in 2013-14 and $5.2 billion in 2014-15.

But now the province is finding commodity prices aren't as high as were expected and land sales are not near the record levels they reached last year.