Another round of 'Ralph bucks' for Albertans?
Premier Ralph Klein hasn't ruled out dipping into the province's record $8.7-billion surplus to give Albertans a second round of prosperity cheques.
Klein said Tuesday he wants to at least consider giving some of the province's wealth back to Albertans.
"I have no problems returning it," he said.
"What are we going to do with it? Do we carry on with the program of saving some, spending some on infrastructure and giving some back? Or do we change the program?"
Every Albertan $400 richer
In January, the Alberta government sent $400 cheques — known as resource-rebate cheques, prosperity cheques, and "Ralph bucks" — to virtually every man, woman and child in the province. The rebate program cost $1.4 billion.
Last week, Finance Minister Shirley McClellan revealed that the surplus for 2005-2006 had reached a record $8.7 billion.
Most of that money is already committed to a wide range of construction projects and education endowments, but there is still $2.7 billion available for new projects.
Conservative MLAs will discuss the issue at a meeting in Calgary on Monday, where ministers will be bringing forward proposals for themoney, such as building projects andextra funding for school boards, Klein said.
The final decision will be up to caucus, he said.
Rebates not popular with critics
Critics slammed the government during the last round of resource cheques, saying the money could have gone to cash-strapped programs such as education and road-building.
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft is against the idea of a second round.
"The $1.4 billion we spent on that could have gone a significant way to permanently taking a bite out of poverty in this province," Taft told reporters. "Handing it out is inflationary and wasteful."
Several candidates who are vying for Klein's job as Conservative leader have also rejected the idea of more prosperity cheques.
Klein said Tuesday there are many factors to consider before any money is handed out.
"I know I've been reading and hearing about pressures relative to schools. I've been reading and hearing about pressures relative to infrastructure — that is road infrastructure — so all of these things will have to be factored in."
Much of the increase in revenues has come from oil and gas, with resource royalties and other payments hitting a record $14.3 billion. Government experts called it a "remarkable" year for oil and gas and doubt future years will be able to match these levels.
With files from Canadian Press