By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Budgets often make Albertans nervous, as they cringe and ask — What funding will be cut or how many new taxes will be added? But, Alberta Budget 2015 also puts politicians on edge, knowing there’s going to be some major changes with a new government under the NDPs and its Official Opposition, the Wildrose Party.
“This year we’re facing a $6.1 billion deficit, followed by the next three budgets are going to be multi-billion dollar deficits,” said Little Bow Wildrose MLA David Schneider from Edmonton last week, adding there’s also a proposed $1 billion surplus in 2020.
Schneider noted the capital plan alone has investments of $34 billion over five years. “So, $3.8 billion for schools, $2.2 for health facilities, $4.7 is for roads and bridges and this is a new one, there’s $4.4 set aside for new projects that have yet to be named. I don’t know anything about how you borrow money, I haven’t been the government. I’m not up to my ears in understanding that but I didn’t know you could borrow money on something you don’t know what you’re going to do with the money. That’s an interesting one — $4.4 floating around out there in space. They haven’t named what they’re going to spend that money on yet. That’s a lot of money,” Schneider said.
It’s understood throughout the province, Schneider said, there’s been a deficit for infrastructure alone over the years.
“Look at the schools — there’s a lot of schools that have deferred maintenance problems and hospitals have deferred maintenance problems. The problem with some of this infrastructure stuff, as it’s been over the years, is governments have used it for political gain. It’s just way too politicized and that’s why there is no sunshine list, which is what the NDP campaigned on. I asked in Question Period yesterday (last Wednesday), ‘now we have this chokingly-huge budget in front of us but we still don’t know what infrastructure we’re spending all this money on.’ That was something they campaigned on and they promised on and I’m hitting them about it again today (last Thursday) in Question Period — asking if the minister will table whatever list they did use to create a budget. You can’t create a budget just on a whim and throw numbers together, there’s got to be something they were planning to work on that they haven’t announced,” he explained.
Schneider also commented on the NDP government’s Job Creation Centre program plan.
“I think it’s good for non-profits too. It’s a two-year program, I think, and it’s theoretically to create 2,700 new jobs. I think probably the party’s line on that — I can probably state, would be quite a little bit different. It would be more to create a province that was a little more friendly to business and then you kind of just stand back and let business take over and that’s how you create jobs. It’s tough for government — government shouldn’t try to be in the business of creating jobs — 40,000 jobs have gone and that’s not necessarily their problem. There’s been a downturn in our biggest source of income, so understood, but that one we probably wouldn’t have messed with corporate taxes and personal taxes and such. That would create a more friendly environment for business alone and then the government can stay out of it and let jobs happen. That’s how we would like to see that happen,” said Schneider.
So, how does a province pay for all its spending? Through taxes, of course.
“The sin taxes are always the ones government takes runs at when they can generate another $100 or $200 million bucks. Every government does it.”
“I don’t have an answer for that one. I wish I did,” he said.
“Every cigarette smoker and beer drinker knows, ‘oh no here comes a budget and it’s a deficit budget, I think we’re going to get hit,’” he joked, adding it happens every time.
One aspect of the budget Schneider wanted Little Bow constituents to know is — there’s more money coming for bridges and roads.
“In the transportation budget, I made it my business to find this out, there’s a line item named Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program. Within that line item, local roads and bridges are included. That line item, right now, has $18.7 million in it for this budget and of course we’re having another budget in six months. But that number increases to $119 million over three years. Transportation’s estimates are on tonight (Tuesday), so I won’t know any details of that but we can hope some of that money, if not all of it, is going to go back to bridges and roads in rural areas,” he said.
Also, he noted, Transportation is in charge of Water For Life, which is for water projects coming out of a city and going off to smaller communities.
“Although Water For Life’s budget was cut by $20 million in this budget, the government has $706 million over five years added back to this item. That’s for water and waste management. The people that didn’t know if they were going to get funded for water projects, it sounds like there’s going to be some money there,” he said.