5 ways the budget affects Albertans

It's one of the most important budgets to come down in Alberta in quite some time, but what does it mean for the average Albertan.
The Alberta budget was unveiled Thursday by Doug Horner, who defended large capital expenditures because of the amount of growth in the province. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

It’s one of the most important budgets to come down in Alberta in quite some time but what does it mean for the average Albertan?

Discussion around the budget has centred on a $2 billion deficit as well as the government's decision to borrow $4.3 billion, but how will it affect people’s pocketbooks?

Finance Minister Doug Horner justifies the need for $6.3 billion in "capital requirement" because there will be five million Albertans in 17 years — which is the equivalent of adding the population of Calgary to the province’s 3.6 million people that reside in the province.

"We have to build for the future," said Horner.

1. New fees, funding

There are officially two new fees in the 2013 budget that will affect Albertans. One new fee is a monthly 911 call centre levy of $0.44 per cellphone number.

Another is Alberta Games participation fee jumping from $40 to $60.

The Alberta government is providing money to house 1,800 homeless Albertans and funding more than 3,200 spaces for emergency and transitional shelters.

Métis settlements in Alberta are also getting $10M in funding to address disparities in essential services, housing and policing.

The budget also includes a new $5-million fund to help increase Alberta’s access to oil and gas markets in Asia and the U.S.

"Expanding market access for Alberta’s natural resources and products is on of this government’s top priorities," said Horner in his speech to the Alberta legislature.

There will also be 10 new RCMP officers and two new judges working in Alberta by the end of the year.

2. Education

With roughly 600,000 students in Alberta, changes to education funding affects many in the province.

The budget gives education $6.1 billion in operating and property tax support to public and separate school boards around the province. But there have been cuts as well.

The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement has been axed, saving the province $41 million.

The program’s goal is to improve student learning by encouraging teachers, parents and the community to work collaboratively to introduce innovative projects that address local needs. 

While the province says there will only be cost of living adjustments for post-secondary tuition, operating grants have been cut by $147 million.

The government has set aside $503 million for the next three years to build new schools and modernize 70 others.

Post-secondary funding is slated to receive $282 million over three years towards new facilities at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Norquest College, University of Calgary, Lethbridge College and Mount Royal University.

But the province has stressed there will be no new money for teachers.

Even though the province will see thousands of new students and new schools, the finance minister said it will be up to school boards to make it work.

3. Health care

Health care in Alberta will be getting an increase of in funding of three per cent up to $17.1 billion, but it falls shy of the health spending growth rate of nine per cent over the last 10 years.

It is still unclear exactly what effects the decrease in expected funds will have on budgets for health regions around the province, but there have been some boosts as well.

The province has earmarked $89 million for early childhood development and support for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Late this spring, Albertans will have access to insulin pump therapy program.

Those who qualify will be provided with 100 per cent coverage of insulin pumps and basic supplies that are not already covered through other plans.

The province has set aside for $262 million for primary care networks, family care clinics and addiction and mental health services.

Other infrastructure investments over the next three years include $230 million for continuing care capital program, $100 million for 1,000 supportive living units and $878 million for the continued construction of hospitals in Edson, Grande Prairie, High Prairie, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

The new cancer centre announced for Calgary will also get a $80 million over three years, which is on top of the $181 million the province has already benchmarked for the project.

Alberta will also have access to cheaper generic drugs, as the province reduced prices from 35 per cent to 18 per cent.

The province is also implementing a Pharmacare program on Jan. 1, 2014. The program will ensure a comprehensive drug and supplementary health benefit coverage for the roughly 20 per cent of Albertans who have no drug coverage of any kind.

4. Changes for seniors

There will be changes to the Seniors Benefits program.

Alimony, workers compensation and Canada disability payments will be taken into account when evaluating eligibility, a change expected to affect 6,000 seniors.

Seniors will also have to live in Canada for 10 years before they can qualify for benefits.

A new Seniors Property Tax Deferral Program will be implemented for eligible seniors who own their homes, so they can keep money in their pockets by deferring taxes until they sell their homes.

By establishing the tax deferral program, the Seniors School Property Tax Assistance will be eliminated.

There will also be income testing implemented for the current Seniors School Property Tax Assistance program to ensure seniors in the most need will continue to receive funding before the program ends in 2014.

5. Program cuts

The economic forecast for the province is 2.9 per cent, and the employment rate remains one of the lowest in the country at 4.5 per cent.

The province feels with this much employment opportunity available, employment training will be cut from $981 million to $883 million. The program provides applicants with grant for education upgrading, English as a second language classes, occupational training and other services.

The Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP), which funded 3,000 student jobs, has also been eliminated for a savings of $7.4 million.

Human Services and Environment and Sustainable Resource Development are losing $9 million and $22 million respectively. The department budgets were both slashed because of efficiencies found when mergers with other departments happened.

The Community Spirit Program was cut, which offered grants to eligible non-profit or charitable organizations.

The Farm Fuel Distribution Allowance was also eliminated from Alberta Farm Fuel Benefit Program.

There will also be a reduction in funding to the Safe Community Program. The province said while the program was successful, it did not spend its full allocation last year.