The provincial government is running a bigger deficit than it expected just a few months ago.
Saskatchewan's finance minister, Kevin Doherty, tabled his first budget Wednesday. It contains a $434-million deficit, up from a projected $260 million in February — with spending of $14.46 billion and projected revenues of $14.02 billion in the fiscal year ending Mar. 31, 2017.
"I don't like it at all," Premier Brad Wall said when asked about running a deficit. "I do think it's manageable — especially when you consider what is going on in some other provinces. But it's a deficit."
The government will also borrow $1 billion this year, to spend a total of $1.7 billion on capital projects, from schools to hospitals to bypasses. The Crown corporations, meanwhile, are spending another $1.8 billion on capital projects.
"We're going to do everything we can to get it back to balanced, to have a balanced budget by '17-'18," Wall said.
Among the budget measures rolled out Wednesday was the closure of a northern jail, cuts to spending on urban parks, the elimination of tax rebates for children's sports programs, less money for prescription drug subsidies and a reduction in post-secondary capital spending.
Doherty says the government curtailed spending where it could, but did not make dramatic cuts.
"We didn't think it would be prudent at this point in time, given the situation in the economy, to pull back spending dramatically — which would result in perhaps the layoff of individuals that work in government or our third-party sectors, closing down facilities," Doherty said.
- BUDGET 2016: Saskatchewan closing Buffalo Narrows jail
- BUDGET 2016: Province eliminates tax rebates for kids' sports, music classes
- BUDGET 2016: Drug fee for children, seniors being boosted $5 per prescription
- BUDGET 2016: Five urban parks losing $540K in provincial money
- BUDGET 2016: No budget money for U of S Health Sciences building
The Opposition's finance critic, Cathy Sproule, said there was little new in today's budget.
"There's nothing in this budget that couldn't have been released before the election," Sproule told reporters.
The NDP accuses the government of burning through money during good economic times and leaving itself in a position where it must now run a deficit and borrow money.
Doherty said socking money away in a low-interest savings account would be an inefficient use of dollars.
"Some would say, 'Well, you should have put some money away during the good times,'" he said. "And I would make the argument, 'Why would you put money away into a savings account that would pay maybe 0.5 per cent when you're still paying 3.5 per cent on debt outstanding on a credit card, if you will?'"
The government says the real work begins now on what it's calling "transformational change" to get the books balanced by next year's budget. It says everything is on the table in that discussion. Doherty says the Saskatchewan Party campaigned on no tax increases, which is a promise it kept in this budget.
However, by next year, he says, people should not be surprised that property tax increases will be considered along with other changes.
Wall added that a lot of work has to happen in just a few months, in order to achieve a balanced budget next year.
"We've asked ministers to actually continue to find more savings," Wall said, noting that the budget documents include a projection of no increase in government spending next year.