March 20, 2019 4:24 pm
Updated: March 21, 2019 7:43 am

‘The right balance’: Saskatchewan delivers balanced budget

WATCH: The Saskatchewan government delivered their 2018-19 provincial budget on Wednesday and was back-to-balanced, as promised.

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Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said the books are balanced as she projected a $34.4 million surplus in the 2019-20 budget.

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Harpauer said the budget makes good on the Saskatchewan Party’s promise to balance the budget and is “the right balance” for the province.

The three-year back-to-balance plan began with the 2017-18 austerity budget when the deficit exceeded one billion dollars.

READ MORE: New schools, hospitals included in Saskatchewan budget

Wednesday’s budget is the final year of the back-to-balance plan.

“This budget contains no new taxes or tax increases, so it’s the right balance to keep our economy strong,” Harpauer said.

“It balances much-needed investments with carefully managed spending in order to achieve a balanced budget that is affordable and sustainable, now and in the years ahead.”

That includes a strong focus on mental health support and increased funding for classrooms, Harpauer said.

READ MORE: $706M budgeted for Saskatchewan’s highways and roads in 2019-20

The Opposition said the budget fails to live up to its promise of being balanced.

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the province’s debt will grow by $1.8 billion this year, one way the “budget is off-balance.”

“Far too many people are paying far too much so this government can pat themselves on the back with false celebrations of balance,” Meili said.

Health spending

A record $5.89 billion will be invested in health, with $402 million going to mental health and addictions services.

The government said that includes funding for 140 new beds for mental health and addictions treatment, and to improve access to mental health supports.

Money is being set aside to plan for new hospitals in Prince Albert and Weyburn, and $12 million has been allocated to begin construction of a new long-term care facility in Meadow Lake.

READ MORE: Tax credit unveiled for volunteer firefighters in Saskatchewan

The province will also spend $558,000 to set up an organ donor registry, which Health Minister Jim Reiter hopes “will encourage Saskatchewan people to register their intent to donate.”

Work on the registry will commence immediately, with the goal of launching before the end of the fiscal year

Education spending

Education spending will increase 0.6 per cent to $3.28 billion, with school divisions receiving $1.9 billion, up $26.2 million from last year.

“This budget increases school division funding while education property tax rates remain unchanged,” Harpauer said.

READ MORE: No funding increase in provincial budget for Saskatchewan’s universities

School infrastructure funding is set at $95.6 million, with $29 million going to two major school consolidation projects – one in Rosthern and the other in Weyburn.

Planning and design will start on two replacement schools in Regina and four in Moose Jaw, along with determining the scope to replace St. Frances Elementary in Saskatoon.

Social services spending

Social Services is receiving $1.43 billion, up $51.4 million.

The income assistance budget is getting part of the increase – $10 million, with $6.3 million of the increase going to the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID).

The ministry said it will be simplifying the way income exemptions are calculated, and allow beneficiaries who are able to work to keep more of their earnings.

READ MORE: Sask. government promises more support for mental health and addictions services

Funding to support at-risk children and families is increasing $27.7 million, with $23.5 million going to enhance services to help keep children safe.

The government said that includes intensive direct services for families to help keep children safely at home, community-based and group homes, and private treatment for children with high needs.

2019-20 forecast

Total spending is forecast at $14.99 billion, up 2.6 per cent, on revenue of $15.03 billion, an increase of 5.5 per cent.

Surpluses of $49 million, $72 million and $84 million are projected in the next three years.

Harpauer said the increase in revenue is attributed to growing tax revenue, higher resource revenue, and higher net income from Government Business Enterprises.

The government is projecting GDP growth of 1.2 per cent in 2019, and 2.4 per cent in 2020.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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