Alberta deficit $2.5B lower than forecast thanks to higher revenues

The Alberta government ended the fiscal year with a deficit of $8 billion, $2.5 billion less than was forecast in the spring 2017 budget, due to higher than expected revenue.

Province finishes fiscal 2017-18 with $8B deficit

Finance Minister Joe Ceci released the government's annual financial report on Thursday which showed Alberta ended 2017-18 with a $8 billion deficit. (CBC)

The Alberta government ended the fiscal year with a deficit of $8 billion, $2.5 billion less than was forecast in the spring 2017 budget, due to higher than expected revenue.

The annual report, released Thursday by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, shows the government's actual results for the period running from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

While the resource-dependent balance sheet is looking better, the province continues its plunge into greater levels of debt.

The government took in $2.4-billion more than expected in revenue. A jump in resource revenue accounted for $1.9 billion of that increase.

Alberta Finance projected a benchmark price of $55 US for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate  crude oil in the March 2017 budget. The actual average price was $53.69 US.

Income tax continues to be a problem. Corporate income tax revenue came in $470 million lower than forecasted. Personal income tax was $402 million lower than expected.

Debt is at $43.4 billion

The government is currently $43.4 billion in debt and is paying $1.42 billion in annual interest costs.

Operating expenses were $700 million higher than forecasted. Overall, the government spent $400 million more than it budgeted. Increases were due to drug costs, health services, increased caseloads for social services and higher school enrolment.

The United Conservative Party slammed the government for policies that led to lower tax revenues and for celebrating the lower-than-expected deficit.

"It's not good enough to tell Albertans that the NDP deficit was only eight times what the NDP promised, not 10, just because the government happened to get lucky with resource and investment revenues last year," official Opposition finance critic Drew Barnes said in a news release. 

"Today the out-of-touch NDP is amazingly celebrating a current debt of $43.4 billion, with the figure going to nearly $100 billion in the near future. It's well past time for this NDP government to get serious about getting Alberta's finances in order now."

Ceci said one of the UCP's legacy parties, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, created the problem his government had to clean up. 

"They left this province in a significant infrastructure debt that they didn't put on the books. We're dealing with that now," Ceci said, in a reference to the debt-slashing methods employed by the Klein government 25 years ago.

 "That stuff doesn't go on financial statements but Albertans do experience it."

The province's contingency savings account sits at $1.7 billion, a drop of $600 million from the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

In the province's February fiscal update, Ceci said the government was forecasting a year-end deficit of $9.1 billion, a drop of $1.4 billion from the figure in the March 2017 budget.

That improvement was mostly due to higher oil and gas revenues and gains in investment income, the government said.


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada. You can reach her at michelle.bellefontaine @cbc.ca.