Alberta finishes 2014-15 with more than $1B surplus

The surplus was $1.1 billion on a consolidated basis, or $1.4 billion under the much-maligned fiscal plan basis, which the former Jim Prentice government abandoned in the March 26 budget.
Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci speaks to reporters Tuesday about the government's year end fiscal report. (CBC)

Alberta finished the fiscal year with more than a $1-billion surplus, the first surplus in six years, according to an  annual financial report released Tuesday.

The surplus was $1.1 billion on a consolidated basis, or $1.4 billion under the much-maligned fiscal plan basis which the Jim Prentice government abandoned in the March 26 budget.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the surplus is good news. But  like his predecessor Robin Campbell, he warned of tough times ahead.

"We have a really different situation moving forward," Ceci said. "The positive surplus is helpful, for sure. We're going to look at everything as we move forward in terms of budget."

The report is a picture of the entire 2014-2015 fiscal year which ended March 31.

Last year, the government spent $5.9 billion on its capital plan; $3 billion came from direct borrowing. The total capital debt is $11.9 billion. 

On March 31, the contingency fund, the government's savings account, was worth $6.5 billion. Finance officials estimate the fund is worth $8.2 billion today.

Ceci said the fund will help his NDP government, but he doesn't plan to rely on it.

"Philosophically, think contingencies are there to smooth things out," he said. "They're not there to totally drain the bank account."

The Heritage Savings Fund sits at $17.9 billion.

Although the price of crude oil dropped about $40 a barrel over the year, the government still increased its revenue due to higher corporate taxes and revenue from liquor, gaming and fees.

Ceci said the government will look at other measures to generate more revenue. 

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt was not impressed. He repeated his party's call for Ceci to table a budget in September, noting the last budget was released in March 2014, when Alison Redford was still premier. 

"We've had three premiers since Alison Redford, yet we still have the same budget," he said. "The government is flying in the dark. It's a budget that was meant for a very different reality, and ran deficits with oil at $100 a barrel

Deficit or surplus?

The change back to consolidated financial reporting reveals the government had a deficit in 2013-14, when then-finance minister Doug Horner declared there was a surplus.

In 2013-14, the government reported a surplus of $755 million. The number becomes a $302-million deficit under the consolidated system.

Ceci suggested his preference would be to stay with the consolidated system, but added he still needed to talk to Premier Rachel Notley.

"I want it to be simple, personally, for Albertans and for everybody who looks at our statements."

The budget presented by the former PC government on March 26 was never passed because a new NDP government was elected on May 5.

Ceci intends to present a full budget in the fall.

The government passed an interim supply bill earlier this month to fund government operations until then.

Ceci said work on the fall budget started Monday.