Optimism from business, education groups as budget day looms in Saskatchewan
Leaders in the tech and business sectors are looking for tax credits, while teachers want funding restored
The head of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce says the province's business community is "looking forward" to the province's April 10 budget, even though it could mean another PST hike or an expansion of the scope of the tax.
"They're headed in the right direction. The amount of spending cuts done were important to recognize," said Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.
"From a real impact on business, the changes to adding PST on restaurant meals and construction labour, those are real challenges and the communities are still feeling that, but we're looking for greater things this year," he said, referencing last year's budget from the Saskatchewan Party under the leadership of Brad Wall.
This year, Wall has stepped away from politics, and provincial leaders are looking to Premier Scott Moe, the party's new leader, to deliver some positive news, while still attempting to end Saskatchewan's revenue shortfall.
Some of the cuts in last year's budget, though, have been reversed, like spending on libraries, funerals for low-income people, and a PST exemption on premiums for health, life and agriculture insurance.
The provincial government usually hints at big-ticket items coming in the budget but in this year's lead-up, little has been said.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer has expressed that everything is on the table, and the premier told reporters "this will be a challenging budget."
Hand up, not a handout for business
Saskatchewan's job searchers are in a tough spot, looking for jobs for a longer period of time than in previous years. This is good news for employers looking to hire, but it may also cause some to go it on their own as entrepreneurs.
"There is an opportunity this year, and there has been some conversation about an investment tax credit," said McLellan.
Those conversations, though, have included only "innuendoes," he said. The government has given very little away in the lead-up to the budget's release on April 10.
To encourage newcomers and Indigenous entrepreneurs, who struggle to access capital, McLellan suggests the provincial government "buy from those companies more aggressively."
"Instead of giving handouts at the front end, give a hand up at the consumer perspective," he said.
Give tech sector room to grow
Tax incentives are a buzzword for tech companies, too, like Vendasta Technologies, based in Saskatoon.
CEO Brendan King would like to see the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program reinstated in full in Saskatchewan.
Before April 1, 2015, the Saskatchewan tax credit was refundable at the rate of 15 per cent on eligible expenditures.
"You have to build the things that keep people here — the talent pool, the infrastructure and facilities to support them, and an ecosystem to get other companies to stay," said King.
You have to build the things that keep people here — the talent pool, the infrastructure and facilities to support them, and an ecosystem to get other companies to stay.- Brendan King, CEO of Vendasta Technologies
"The [scientific research and experimental development] tax credit is fantastic, but B.C. has a better one — I don't know why. Those are the things you can do."
Others in King's industry have spent the startup period of their projects in Saskatoon, but moved elsewhere once their businesses started growing.
"I think companies like ours are forced to move or sell too soon," said King.
He hopes to continue his own business in Saskatoon, his hometown, even though 91 per cent of Vendasta's business is in the United States.
A promise to educators
Teachers are clear about their budget wishlist for 2018. They want what they have been promised by Scott Moe.
"Fifty-four million dollars was taken out of the sector and our classrooms are feeling that now. So we're hoping for restoration and possibly addition," said Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze.
"The premier has indicated education is a priority and he understands it's an investment into Saskatchewan's future, so we're hoping that he'll make good on that."
Moe committed to a $30-million increase in the education sector this year if he won the Saskatchewan Party's leadership race, to address some of the $54-million cut.
"We know that even at $30 million there were services provided to students, like Aboriginal retention workers, things like that, that were put in place for a reason, and to have them cut was really unfortunate," said Maze.
Class sizes are creeping up, and though the general public may not notice, Maze said both teachers and students suffer as a result. Education assistants have also suffered cuts.