What to expect from the 2019 British Columbia provincial budget
The B.C. NDP government will unveil its second provincial budget on Tuesday. Finance Minister Carole James says British Columbians should expect another balanced budget and because of the strength of the economy, there will also be some new spending.
Here’s a look at where the provincial government is expected to target some of that money.
WATCH: B.C. throne speech 2019: Climate BC plan
Green energy incentives
In December, the provincial government unveiled CleanBC. The plan targets a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and includes incentives for British Columbians to retrofit their homes, buy heat pumps and drive zero-emission vehicles.
WATCH: Richard Zussman has a preview of the NDP government’s 2019 budget, which will be tabled on Tuesday.
The province has committed to unveiling what some of those incentives are as part of the budget and how the province will pay for the new program.
LISTEN: The NDP has been careful not the break the bank despite pressures to spend. The Province newspaper’s Michael Smyth is here with his take on the day’s headlines.
Funding poverty reduction plan
The NDP have talked for a long time about a poverty reduction strategy, both as the Official Opposition and now in government. Budget 2019 will be its chance to fund the plan.
There are a lot of elements that could go into the poverty reduction plan. The province is looking at the possibility of living wage pilot projects, increases to income and disability rates, homelessness support and the child benefit.
“Given that the provincial government has been talking about this since they came into power, this is really the time for it to put its money where its mouth is,” said B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition organizer Trish Garner.
“B.C.’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy should include an immediate, meaningful raise in income and disability assistance rates with a long-term aim of reaching the poverty line through successive increases.”
The summer of 2018 was the worst fire season in the province’s history in terms of forest burned. It’s also expected to be the most expensive, with provincial numbers estimating the suppression cost at over $568 million.
The provincial budget allotted just $64 million to cover the costs. It is now two years in a row that the actual costs of fighting the fires closed in on 10 times more than was actually budgeted. Premier John Horgan has mentioned in the past an interest in changing the way forecasts are done and also spending money to prevent fires in the future.
“It does make sense to increase that portion of the budget. But there are other areas where we want to be investing as well: prevention and clearing,” James said.
Expanded child care funding
A year ago, the province committed $1 billion over three years to child care. According to the government, tens of thousands of families are benefiting from child care affordability grants.
But what advocates are looking for is how the province doles out the cash in the second year of the plan.
“Child care in this province is one of the top two or three issues. It matters to families and it matters to the economy,” said child care advocate Sharon Gregson. “We are expecting $357 million and it matters how that money is spent.”
The province is also reviewing how the $10-a-day child care prototypes are working.
“Our approach is you need to invest in people because they help build a strong economy,” James said. “Because you can and should have both. That is the focus of Budget 2019.”
Property Transfer Taxes down
Property Transfer Taxes have been the goose that has laid British Columbia’s golden eggs. But after a year of measures to address affordability and crack down on speculators, the housing market is cooling and revenues from property transfer taxes have gone down.
Budget 2019 will show exactly how much that decrease has been and whether that will have an effect on how much can be spent.
Last year, the province froze ferry rates on major routes and reduced fares on non-major routes, and it’s committed to maintain the ferry rate freeze. But the government is also in the midst of a full review of BC Ferries, so it may take some time for any other major changes.
Interest free student loans
In the 2017 provincial election campaign the NDP promised interest-free student loans if elected. The government has already reduced the student loan interest rate by 2.5 per cent but hasn’t fulfilled the entire promise yet.
The NDP provided a hint that this may be coming with a mention in last week’s Speech from the Throne.
“B.C. students are struggling with the costs of higher education,” the speech reads. “Budget 2019 will help make life a little easier for B.C. students.”
Royal BC Museum
It was no coincidence that James spent her Family Day at the Royal B.C. Museum. The province will be getting some funding to modernize and protect historic holdings. Part of the funding will also be for better access to the vast collections that aren’t included in the current museum because of a lack of space.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.