Saskatchewan budget combines cuts, more spending

The Saskatchewan government has unveiled an $11.3-billion budget that's a bit like the fictional creature in the Dr. Doolittle books — an animal with a head on both ends.

The Saskatchewan government has unveiled an $11.3-billion budget that's a bit like the fictional creature in the Dr. Doolittle books — an animal with a head on both ends.

Like the Pushmi-pullyu, the government's 2012-2013 spending plan appears to go in two different directions, with a 4.7 per cent increase in spending at the same time some programs are being cut, fees are being hiked and jobs are being shed.

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz, who released his budget in the legislature Tuesday, said this dual approach makes sense for a government that wants to improve the services it provides in a sustainable way.

He says it's all part of maintaining an 'advantage' in Saskatchewan.

"Balanced budgets, a growing economy and government services that are affordable and sustainable in the long term," Krawetz said. "Around the world we are seeing the chaos caused by governments that did not live within their means."

Among the cuts is an $8-million tax subsidy to the film and video industry.

The province is also discontinuing its Enterprise Region program, which was designed to help regions attract businesses and jobs, in order to save $4 million.

Children and seniors under a drug plan will also pay an extra $5 per prescription — which will save the province $10 million a year.

In total, the government says it has found $34 million worth of efficiencies.

The province will be one of the few in Canada that spends less than it takes in.

But NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said the cuts are not fair.

"We see a nickel and diming of seniors," he said. "The Sask Party says they're giving something on one hand and then they're taking it and taking it and taking it again."

On the cost side, health care remains the biggest single item, with $4.7 billion in spending expected, an increase of $218 million.

Another big item is highways and infrastructure, which will get $582 million.

About 500 civil service positions are being cut, most through retirements and attrition, the government says.

It's a surplus budget, with the general revenue fund projected to take in $95 million more than it spends. Looking at the summary accounts, which includes all operations of government, including Crown corporations, the surplus number is razor-thin, but still in the black — $14 million.

The first budget since the November, 2011, election that returned the Saskatchewan Party to power includes a new formula for divvying up Kindergarten-to-Grade-12 dollars. Some school divisions will do better than others, but to make sure no schools lose money, the government added $10 million in "transitional" funds.

Helping the government afford schools, hospitals and roadbuilding this year is some extra revenue.

The province is planning to rake in about $500 million more that it did last year.

Taxes are the biggest source of income ($5.3 billion), but non-renewable resources, including oil, gas and potash, will put another $3.1 billion into the coffers.

The government said it will add to its so-called rainy day fund. The Growth and Financial Security Fund will hold $756 million by the end of the fiscal year that begins April 1.