Opinions vary on provincial budget

  • Mar. 2, 2011 5:00 p.m.

CHARLES TWEED

Like it or hate it, area politicians have an opinion on the Progressive Conservative budget.

The budget forecasts a $3.4 billion deficit for 2011-12 but does make bold predictions to a return to surplus in 2013-14. The deficit number is higher than what was forecast a year ago as a result of revenue not being as high as forecast at that time.

The government had originally predicted a return to balanced budgets in 2012-13 but has now moved that date back one year.

“The deficit, $3.4 billion is mainly as a result to continue to build the hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure that we need to prepare ourselves for the coming boom that is imminent in the next couple of years,” explained Lacombe- Ponoka MLA Ray Prins.

There is $903 million in new money allocated to Alberta Health Services ($545m), school boards ($257m), post-secondary institutions ($62m) and children and youth programs ($39m).

The big spending seems to be tied to the capital plan, committing $6.6 billion this year and $17.6 billion over a three year period. The plan focuses on infrastructure in an attempt to turn the economy around.

“We found prices to be very reasonable right now. With the Ponoka Composite (High School) modernization, estimates are far lower than we anticipated. So there are huge savings to spending money now and that’s most obvious right here in Ponoka — that’s also why I think it’s important to finish that project and get the funding in place for it.” said Prins.

Mayor Larry Henkelman was concerned about grant funding and potential cutbacks to the Rural Economic Development Alliance (REDA).

“The fear is that they’re going to cut back on grants and then it is very similar to the cutbacks on the REDA groups and if we want them to continue then the municipalities have to kick in money to keep them operating. If they do cut, who picks up the difference?” said Henkelman “You either cancel the program or the municipality picks up the difference.”

The government plans to use savings in the Sustainability Fund to cover the forecast deficits for this year and next, a notion that doesn’t sit well with Wildrose candidate Rod Fox.

“I’m very concerned about the deficit. Their lack of spending control and bad planning is leading us in huge budgetary deficits,” said Fox. “Capital spending could be spread over another year so that we don’t completely deplete our sustainability fund — they are pushing their mismanagement onto the backs of future generations.”

Prins believes the time is now to spend the money.

“Critics can say, ‘Don’t spend the money now’ but the fact is we have it in savings so the time to spend it is when the prices are right and the needs are there. In the future we know the economy is improving and if we need to we can always cut back in the future as long as we have money in our Sustainability Fund — nine ministries are taking cuts this year and several are staying even and the bigger ministries like health, education and infrastructure and transportation are seeing slight increases,” added Prins.