Saskatchewan

Projected Sask. deficit down to $306M in 1st quarter update from province

During its first quarter update, Saskatchewan's budget deficit is $59 million less than was originally projected, which the government attributes to a higher revenue forecast.

Original budget deficit projected at $365M

The province's projected debt has also seen a slight improvement — $19.9 billion by March 31, 2019, down from the previously projected $20 billion. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor)

The Saskatchewan provincial budget deficit is forecast to be $306 million, according to the province's first quarter update, $59 million less than was original projected.

The lower deficit projection is attributed to higher revenues from government business enterprises and higher non-renewable resource revenue, a press release from the government states.

Projected revenue was up $172 million but was offset by $112 million worth of increased spending in health care ($20 million), child and family services ($20 million), higher than expected firefighting costs ($17 million) and pension changes ($55.3 million).

NAFTA  changes could take a toll: finance minister

Speaking to reporters, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer voiced concern about some factors that could see Saskatchewan take a hit due its dependence on trade, such as NAFTA, tariffs and tax cuts in the United States.

"The biggest concerns we have with maintaining this and strengthening going forward is, beyond a doubt, the factors that are beyond our control," she said.

Some debt is "supported," Harpauer said. Debt within Crown corporations is supported by rates paid by customers. But, the operating debt held by the province is not in the same category.

"That shows us how critical it is to come back to balance [by 2019-2020]," she said.

"The fact is we still have a deficit and we've just outlined that we need to get back to balance in order to make services in our province sustainable going forward."

Opposition says government is struggling with finances

Harpauer said the government's latest projections show it's "on track" to balance the books in a few years, but NDP Opposition critic Cathy Sproule disagreed.

"I take offence to the term on track because I don't think they're on track," Sproule said. "I think they're struggling. I think they're finding it harder to manage in these tougher times."

Sproule says the Sask. Party's plan to cut the public sector wage bill by $70 million is flawed.

The NDP says the government overspent on the Regina bypass and other public-private partnership projects. Sproule says taxpayers will have to bear those costs for years.

Slight decrease in debt projected

The provincial budget, unveiled in April, projected a slight increase in oil and potash prices. Oil increased by eight per cent during the first four months of this year compared to the same time last year while potash increased by 11.3 per cent. 

The province's projected debt has also seen a slight improvement — $19.9 billion by March 31, 2019, down from the previously projected $20 billion.

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