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Provincial budget highlights identified: MLA Hunter

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Trevor Busch
Southern Alberta Newspapers

With a stronger emphasis on fiscal responsibility, Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter outlined some highlights identified in the UCP’s recent 2024-25 provincial budget.

“We’ve got another budget that is balanced – we have a modest surplus of about $300 million, but still a surplus. And that’s good,” said Hunter. “So it’s a $73 billion budget, we are seeing about 2.5 to 4 per cent increase, depending upon the ministry, health and education, some bigger increases. And rightly so, we have to make sure that we are keeping up with the growth that we’re seeing in the province. And so that’s where, and why, that funding increase is happening.”

Savings and debt repayment factor prominently in the budget, with $2 billion headed to the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, originally created in 1976.

“We are putting money into the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund. And we’ve done that now for a few years. We are now moving that fund up from $16 billion,” said Hunter. “The premier came out with the ‘State of the Union’ address, and talked about the vision for the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, to help us get off the oil royalties roller coaster. And so she wants to be able to see us by 2050 anywhere between $200 to $400 billion. And so that is going to be achieved through us putting modest amounts of money in, a couple of billion dollars a year. And allowing the money that’s in there, to stay in there and to compound. And so through the principle of compound interest, we should be able to see that we grow.”

While Hunter believes the global energy transition will take longer than experts currently anticipate, planning for a future where the province may only receive a fraction of current oil and gas revenue is a prudent and necessary approach.

“And the value to that is that we’re going to provide an opportunity, we move away from oil and gas – which again, the world certainly is talking about that. But if that actually is achieved, and they can innovate their way into other areas like storage, proper storage units for wind and solar, then we will at some point as the world transition off of oil and gas. And so what are we going to do? We make anywhere between $4 to $14 billion a year off of those royalties. And so we need to have something that we can offset, and that’s why we want to grow that Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund so that we don’t have to bring in a PST in the future to be able to offset those expenses.”

Originally created out of the depths of the Depression by Alberta’s Social Credit government in 1938 under Premier William Aberhart, ATB Financial will be pouring some much-needed funding into government coffers over the fiscal year. 

“Something new you’ll see this year is ATB is giving us $100 million in dividends,” said Hunter. “So we’re going to get a dividend from ATB, which is a Crown corporation. This is the first time that that has happened.”

Wrestling the fiscal giant and pinning it to the mat is no easy task for any government, but Hunter is confident a more prudent approach to provincial finances in the short term will benefit Alberta significantly down the road.

“The impetus for that is if we’re careful and are able to save for the rainy day and move away from oil and gas, we have to be careful with your finances, you can’t spend everything you have if you’re going to do that, and that’s kind of the impetus for that. For that strategy, we’re finding savings. Again, it’s more about where we are adding obviously, but we’re really seeing the increases as we grow our economy. So we’re increasing the pie. And we’re taking a modest amount more in terms of the slice of that pie. So as a percentage we’re saving in that way.”

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