The Saskatchewan government has released its first budget under new Premier Scott Moe, and it is a significantly more palatable one for citizens than the last budget released under former Premier Brad Wall.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer has released a document that keeps the plan of having a balanced budget by the 2019 on track.
It is a budget with a projected deficit of $365 million with a return to balance expected in 2019-20 and a modest surplus of $6 million in 2020-21.
Harpauer says this is a budget which makes important investments in healthcare, education and social services while controlling government spending and keeping the economy strong.
In controlling spending, the government will save five million dollars by reducing the amount of government-owned vehicles and another $19 million by the amalgamation of Saskatchewan’s health regions into one while improving front-line care.
A record $5.77 billion is being put into healthcare which includes a funding increase for foster families, caregivers and community-based organizations that are supporting children in need of protection, at-risk families, and adults with intellectual disabilities.
There is also universal HIV drug coverage and a new hearing loss screening program for babies born in a Saskatchewan hospital.
The budget also fulfills a promise made by Premier Moe to increase funding by $30 million dollars which will allow school divisions to continue making supports to students in the classroom by maintaining or hiring up to 400 teachers and other in-school professionals.
In doing this, the government will not institute any tax increases as the low personal and corporate income tax remain the same with no increases to the provincial sales tax or the education property tax.
As of April 11, the PST exemption for used light vehicles is being removed.
This aligns Saskatchewan with every other jurisdiction in Canada that has a sales tax. The trade-in allowance, to allow a deduction for the value of a trade in when determining PST is being reinstated meaning PST will only be paid on the difference in price between the trade-in and the purchased vehicle.
The PST will not be charged for used vehicles if it is gifted between spouses, parents or legal guardians, children, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings. The PST will not be applied to the private sale of used vehicles with a purchase price of up to $5,000.
The budget ialso ntroduced a Saskatchewan Value-added Agriculture Incentive for corporations making a minimum capital investment of $10 million in an eligible project. In order to qualify, projects must upgrade or transform raw or primary agricultural products.
“This is a budget which will set the stage for a new decade of growth by keeping Saskatchewan’s finances and our economy on track. “Harpauer said. “It is a budget that supports our government’s vision of ensuring Saskatchewan is the best place in Canada to live, work, start a business, get an education, raise a family and build a life.”
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However, this budget does come with it’s critics, such as Finance critic Cathy Sproule.
Sproule noted one of the items causing contention was how the government addressed cannabis within the budget.
Finance Minister Harpauer says it wasn’t included because the government didn’t project high enough revenue due to implementation timing. However, Sproule says she’s not buying that.
“I think it’s really annoying that they haven’t even made an effort to include some forecasting for both the revenues from cannabis sales and also the expenses that we’ll be facing,” Sproule says. “That’s what actuarials are for.”
Sproule says there needs to be some sort of costing mechanism in place and says the government’s action on this is “incomplete” and “disappointing.”
(Files from Ryan McNally and Drew Postey)