Cigarette tax increases and hikes to alcohol prices are some of the measures Finance Minister Ken Krawetz introduced Wednesday to keep his $11.5-billion budget balanced.

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Finance Minister Ken Krawetz released his $11.5 billion spring budget on Wednesday. (Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly)

"This budget not only balances the books, it balances the priorities of Saskatchewan people," Kravetz said. "It controls spending while making key investments."

Smokers will pay an extra $1 for a pack of 25 cigarettes, effective midnight tonight.

Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority is increasing its markup rates by about 3 per cent, effective April 1.

That means, for example, 12 beers will cost $24.28, up 29 cents. A bottle of vodka that now goes for $25.99 will cost 50 cents more.

Corporate tax cut deferred

Although so-called 'sin taxes' are going up, generally, tax rates will stay the same in the Saskatchewan Party government's sixth budget.

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That's good news for people worried about a hike, but bad news for those expecting a cut, like business operators who thought a corporate tax rate reduction of two percentage points would begin this year, as previously promised.

The province says that cut is still coming, just not this year. The rate stays at 12 per cent.

The province's ethanol grants will be phased out — this year, the $24-million-a-year subsidy will be cut to $16 million a year.

Another change is coming to the uranium industry — the royalty system will be overhauled with a view to spurring production, the province says.

Spending up 3%

Overall spending for the fiscal year that begins April 1 is expected to increase 3.1 per cent from last year's budget.

Revenue is projected to be $11.6 billion, resulting in a surplus of $149 million (on a summary account basis, which includes Crown corporations).

Soft prices for oil, gas and potash mean resource revenue is expected to be down by almost $500 million this year, but  surging tax revenue more than compensates.

Individual income tax remains the province's biggest cash cow, with more than $2.4 billion expected to flow into the coffers.

The government plans to take in $197 million from Crown corporations, compared to the $153 million budgeted last year (although that number is now forecast to be $273 million).

$4.84B for health

Health care remains the biggest expense for the province and this year, the bill is increasing to a record $4.84 billion.

Among the programs getting more is the surgical initiative to reduce wait times — about $10 million will be added to bring the budget to $70.5 million.   However, the overall hike to health spending — 3.5 per cent — is considerably less than in previous years.

Schools expecting big enrolment jump

Getting a boost is the school system — pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 — which the province says is undergoing significant enrolment increases for the first time in 40 years. It's allocated $17 million to be distributed to school divisions that see an increase in students.

The province says it's exploring its options for building schools to meet the demand of more children entering the system. 

In advanced education, it's more of a mixed bag.

The University of Regina, for example, had sought a 5 per cent increase in its operating grant, but will get only 2 per cent more. It's started laying off sessional lecturers and expects to hike tuition more than 5 per cent.

Debt picture mixed

Government debt is expected to stay the same next year — $3.8 billion — but when Crown debt is included, the total will rise from $9.3 billion to $10.1 billion.   

Program Note:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is scheduled to do an interview on the budget Thursday on The Morning Edition with CBC Radio Host Sheila Coles, at 7:15 a.m.

The budget makes a number of assumptions about the economy: GDP growth will be 2.6 per cent, inflation will be 2.2 per cent and the price of a barrel of oil will average $92.84 US per barrel (West Texas Intermediate Crude).

NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said the budget offloads too many things to future generations, including public-private parnterships to build hospitals, schools and roads.

"It's a buy-now, pay-later scheme that will cost taxpayers much more through the long-run," he said. "This is certainly in part why we're calling this a credit card budget."