A provincial budget which Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall calls "a little boring" is receiving mixed reviews.
The budget tabled Wednesday by Finance Minister Ken Krawetz includes $14.07 billion in revenue and $14 billion in spending, resulting in a thin surplus of $71 million.
'This is sort of boring because it's about steady growth.' - Premier Brad Wall
"If this budget keeps us on the road to steady growth — that is the theme of budget, which is a little boring admittedly — if the take-away is that this is sort of boring because it's about steady growth for Saskatchewan, and that's a big difference from where this province was just a few years ago, then I'll take it," Wall said.
10 budget highlights (From CBC News tweets):
- Revenues of $14.07 billion, expenses of $14.00 billion.
- Spending (including Crowns) down 0.2 per cent. Revenues down 0.7 per cent.
- Surplus of $71 million — less than half last year's forecast surplus.
- No tax increases or decreases.
- Promised corporate income tax reduction put on hold last year, and remains on hold.
- No changes to mill rates for education property tax.
- Total debt, including Crowns, increases from forecast $10.1 billion last year to $11.8 billion.
- Top 3 spending items: 42.2 per cent health, 21.8 per cent education, 8.1 per cent social services.
- Record tax revenues of $6.8 billion.
- Universities, colleges, and technical schools get 2.0 per cent increase in base operating grants.
Wall told CBC News Wednesday that he remains open to creating a fund for future development but wants to hold off until at least some more of the province's $3.8 billion debt is paid off. The government had commissioned a report to examine how Saskatchewan could implement a long-term savings fund. The report suggested creating a fund using non-renewable resource revenues.
Krawetz said the money isn't there, this year, for such a fund.
"I don't have any loose change kicking around," he said. "If we have windfall revenue on the non-renewable resource side, and it exceeds $3.1 billion, and it's more than 26 per cent, I daresay our cabinet and our caucus are going to look at opportunities to create the fund. At the moment, we want to pay down debt."
Opposition reaction harsh
The Opposition NDP said the decision breaks a promise Wall made last fall to try to save money for the future while also paying off the debt.
"It's a flip-flop as far as the premier's commitment to this," said NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon. "It's a lost opportunity for the next generation to take ... [what] we've been presented currently out of this period of economic strength and resource wealth to put some of those dollars away for the long term."
But Wall said the fund remains an option, noting the final decision has not yet been made on the legislation for the fund.
The NDP also said it's also concerned that the budget doesn't allocate more money for seniors care homes, a topic the opposition has been raising regularly in Question Period.
Other reaction is mixed
The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour criticized the government over what it believes is a growing income inequality in the province. The SFL was also concerned about the province's royalty regime and corporate tax rates and funding for schools.
On the other hand, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation liked that the province decided not to raise the education part of property taxes.
"I think it's great news that they didn't take the easy way out and raise taxes," the federation's prairie director Colin Craig said. "We're glad to see that they continue to look at ways of making the government more efficient instead of just simply asking the taxpayer to pay more money."
There was also praise from the provincial auditor who is said her office is "very excited" that the government has shifted how it reports the budget. Saskatchewan is changing its focus to a summary budget, which takes into account all areas of government, including Crown corporations.
Acting provincial auditor Judy Ferguson says this will be easier for people to understand.
"It really truly is the complete picture and the government, when they're talking about the budget and they're talking about its results, it'll be talking about the complete picture," Ferguson said. "So I think that from a taxpayer point of view, you should gain some comfort in that."
Replay the Saskatoon Morning live chat below.