(3 April 2017)
Budget 2017: Meeting the Challenge
By now, we’ve all had time to digest the provincial budget that was tabled two weeks ago. There is no question; this was a difficult budget. The province has a $1.2 billion hole in resource revenue that needs to be filled. We will not shy away from making those difficult decisions; we will not do what the federal government and many other provinces are doing by planning for deficit budgets far into the future without a clue or a care as to who will pay for that ever-increasing debt. Instead, we have a plan to return to balanced budgets in three years.
While the PST has been increased and expanded to realize additional revenues, your personal incomes taxes will be reduced and the low income tax credit has increased. Even after the recent tax changes, we are all paying less than we did in 2007. Then, a family of 4 with a combined income of $50,000 paid over $3,000 in taxes (PST/personal income tax); this year, that same family will pay just $716 in provincial taxes.
Some services have been trimmed. I would like to address some of the concerns that have been discussed in the media and that I have heard in my office.
On the issue of library funding, there is a perception that over half of regional libraries’ total funding is being cut. That is not the case. Libraries are, and always have been, primarily a municipal responsibility. Provincial grants make up just a portion of total library budgets; provincial grants are not intended for local branch day-to-day operations, which are the responsibility of the municipality. The provincial funding focuses instead on things like interlibrary loans, electronic resources, and community net. Municipal governments have the option of increasing funding to their libraries if they deem it necessary (municipal funding for libraries currently varies greatly across the province).
It will be important for regional libraries, including Wheatland (which we continue to fund at 22% of their total budget), to find new efficiencies and to explore innovative ways to deliver these important services. In many communities, there is both a local public library and a library within the schools. Warman has set a great example of partnering; the regional library was recently moved to inside the new Middle Years School. It still has the same accessibility to the public community, operates outside of traditional school hours but with less overhead costs.
On the issue of municipal revenue sharing, the record of this government is unparalleled. Since 2007, provincial revenue sharing with the City of Martensville has gone up 259% and to the City of Warman by 327%. While there is a reduction this year of the Sask Energy surcharge transferred to municipalities of around $100,000 to both Warman and Martensville, this is less than the increase both cities are receiving from our revenue sharing agreement. Both cities are receiving more money from the province than they did last year.
Your government believes in leading by example. While we are seeking a 3.5% reduction in total public employee compensation this budget, as of April 1st, all MLAs and staff will see a roll back of our wages of 3.5%.
Commuters on Highways 11 & 12 may have noticed that construction began last week on new overpasses at Warman and Martensville. Residents of these communities who can look forward to completion by 2019.
Finishing touches are now being put on four new schools. Joint public-Catholic schools will be open this fall in both Warman and Martensville. Traditions Elementary School and Holy Trinity Catholic School in Warman, and Lake Vista Public School and Holy Mary Catholic School in Martensville will all open their doors in September 2017. This will relieve tremendous pressure on all of the other schools in these two cities. This is a very exciting time for students and teachers alike. I would like to thank all our community leaders and parents who worked with us to make this happen.
Past MLA Reports