Albertans brace for painful provincial budget
Province: Government facing $4 billion deficit after third quarter of 2012-13
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 01:43 pm
Albertans are bracing for bad news when the provincial government unveils its 2013 budget tomorrow (March 6).
The potential for spending cuts, public sector wage roll-backs, tax increases and even debt have been rumoured since the Province revealed a $4 billion deficit after the first nine months of the 2012-13 fiscal year and a $6 billion revenue shortfall was announced earlier this year.
Wildrose leader and Highwood MLA Danielle Smith said she doesn’t have high hopes Alberta will see a surplus when the budget is released on March 7.
“I think we’re going to see a mess, and I don’t know that we’re going to have any clear indication about how we’re going to get out of it,” she said.
Smith said the Province has dug a hole too deep to be able to get its finances back in the black this year and she wants to see a balanced budget passed within the next one or two years.
The Wildrose Party will release it’s own alternative budget on March 7.
Smith said having a long-term capital plan, limiting spending increases and eliminating wasteful spending will allow the Province to balance the budget.
The government doesn’t need to raise taxes to balance the budget, she said.
According to Smith, the Wildrose Party doesn’t want to see any reductions in front-line services. Instead, she wants the Province to focus on cutting wasteful spending and trim back the size of provincial management. She also said cutting wasteful programs such as the $2 billion carbon capture program will make a big difference on the bottom line.
“What we do need to see though is some dramatic cuts in areas of bureaucracy, middle management, senior executives, expense accounts, all of that wasteful spending that doesn’t do a single thing to improve service on the front line,” she said.
The Province needs a strategic, long-term capital plan focusing on needs and priorities, while not going into deficit, Smith argued.
“We believe that you can stretch out your capital plan so you can continue to meet the requirements you need to,” she said.
Smith said the Province also needs to limit year-over-year spending increases.
“When you’re talking about $40 billion worth of spending, every one percentage point of increase costs you hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said. “That is powerful to say we won’t cut, but we’re not going to increase either.”
From municipalities, to teachers and doctors, Albertans are eagerly waiting to see if they will indeed face any cuts in the budget.
While municipalities are hoping they won’t be significantly impacted, Turner Valley Mayor Kelly Tuck said she expects Alberta’s towns and cities to take a hit.
“I think everyone’s assuming that there’s going to be some sort of spending cuts along the way,” she said.
Tuck is most worried the Province will once again balk on funding commitments for the Turner Valley Gas Plant.
She said the Province has already cut back on the amount the Town can expect to see from $15 million to $11 million and she worries it will be reduced further.
“My big concern is with all the cuts, are we even going to see anything for the 100th birthday of the oil and gas industry in the area,” she said.
Tuck said she is also concerned municipal grants could change and the Province could provide less funding for critical programs such as policing.
Black Diamond doctor Noel Grisdale said the Province has done a lot to warn and prepare Albertans, including doctors, provincial finances are not in good shape.
“I don’t trust what this government says, I’ve quit trying to figure it out so I guess we’ll just wait to see on the day,” said Grisdale, former president of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).
The AMA has been in protracted negotiations with the Province for a new contract on doctor pay.
Ultimately, Grisdale said what doctors are looking for is having a better voice in the health system moving forward, not more money.
“What doctors in the province want to see is some stability and we want to see ways to move forward and have a better system,” he said.
One Calgary Progressive Conservative MLA said he doesn’t expect the budget to be an easy one, but he’s also optimistic.
“I think there are going to be some challenges,” said Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, who said he hasn’t seen the document yet.
He said there is no intent to “gut” services, but he expects the budget will allow the Province to correct some of the financial challenges it is facing and move forward to continue building Alberta.