Saskatchewan’s finance minister said she is “nervous” about a slimmer first-quarter surplus than initially forecast in the 2019-20 budget.
Donna Harpauer said there was a surplus of $25.8 million, almost $9 million less than originally projected.
“I will always be nervous. Until that surplus is much larger, I’m very mindful that this very thin,” Harpauer said.
Revenue is now forecast at $15.38 billion, up 2.4 per cent from budgeted revenue, finance officials said, with expenses up 2.4 per cent to $15.35 billion.
Government officials said the reduction in the forecast was mainly due to a significant increase in pension expenses.
“I don’t mean to be flip — it’s kind of a rounding error,” Harpauer said.
The finance minister credited increased revenue to high potash prices and a narrower differential in oil prices. Greater than expected federal transfers also helped, she said.
This year marks the final leg of a three-year, back-to-balance plan that began in 2017-18 when the deficit exceeded $1 billion and the government implemented austerity measures.
Second-quarter results should be a truer representation of Saskatchewan’s economy, Harpauer said, because “a lot of the unknowns will be more known.”
Wildfire season can often burn through the province’s finances, but Harpauer said Saskatchewan has gotten past any budgetary concerns about fires.
While much of the province has also seen moisture levels improve for farmers, the effect of dry conditions and “some pretty significant hail storms” have led to a forecast of an average crop in Saskatchewan.
Trade, including China’s restriction on Canadian canola, remains a lingering concern.
“The trade disputes that are happening globally are affecting Saskatchewan, we’d say, disproportionately,” Harpauer said.
NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said the budget might be on track, but it’s the wrong track, arguing education is being underfunded.
“We have a deficit in our classrooms, classrooms that are at a breaking point,” Wotherspoon said.
He also criticized the Saskatchewan government’s debt load.
The forecast for public debt in Saskatchewan was down from budget day, but still projected to exceed $21.4 billion by the end of 2019-20.
WATCH (March 2019): Saskatchewan delivers balanced budget