The premier’s use of the phrase “difficult choices” in a recent radio advertisement has finance critic Trent Wotherspoon bracing himself for next week’s budget.
“What we’re worried from the premier is that we’re being set up for a hard hit to middle class families,” the Saskatchewan NDP MLA said.
At the core of next week’s budget release will be its status as a balanced budget, Prince Albert Carlton Sask. Party MLA Darryl Hickie said.
“That’s just fiscal management, and we see so many other provincial economies (where) there’s deficit budgets, and we will not do that,” he said. “We need to have a balanced budget to ensure we can still maintain the economic growth that we’re seeing now.
“I think we’ve been very prudent on how we’ve run the province to make sure we have a balanced budget, and we’re still meeting our goals to maintain a social balance, as well.”
Although Wotherspoon anticipates that the Sask. Party will announce a balanced budget next week, he doesn’t believe that they’ll be telling the truth.
But don’t take partisan politicians’ word for it, Wotherspoon said -- “go to the provincial auditor’s.”
“When MLA Hickie’s making those statements, I think that he should look at the auditor’s statement -- who’s independent and non-partisan.”
According to provincial auditor Bonnie Lysyk, the government is using two sets of books to report its finances.
When the government reported a general revenue fund surplus of $352.3 million for the year that ended on March 31, 2012, what should have reported is a deficit of $46 million, the auditor’s report reads.
“This is a government that is all about spin and PR, and very much focused on what they want to print on the billboard with your tax dollar … and they care a lot less about the reality of a sound budget,” Wotherspoon said.
From a municipal perspective, Mayor Greg Dionne wants to see infrastructure concerns addressed in the budget.
“We have lots of pipe replacements -- underground water and sewer -- and we have to spend $1 million to repair the viaduct on Central Avenue -- so, yeah, we have some big issues,” he said.
Dionne said that, although he’d be elated, he doesn’t anticipate any big infrastructure announcements for Prince Albert next week.
“I don’t see any money for the cities, besides Saskatoon and Regina -- surprise, surprise,” he said.
Hickie said that nothing comes to mind when it comes to his advocating for particular budget requests, but that previously initiated capital projects will continue.
These include the construction of a new Pineview Terrace Lodge long-term care facility and the Carlton High School gymnasium expansion, as well as projects at both local area provincial prisons.
I think we’ve been very prudent on how we’ve run the province to make sure we have a balanced budget, and we’re still meeting our goals to maintain a social balance, as well. - Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie
Wotherspoon holds the “almost disgusting” lack of commitment from Prince Albert area MLAs when it comes to advocating for a second bridge as a symbol of their stance on infrastructure.
“From every indication, the government seems to be ignoring common sense, ignoring the needs in Prince Albert, and seems to have no interest in building that bridge,” he said.
Dionne is holding out for a long talked-about federal-provincial infrastructure plan, citing this as a key contributor to council’s recent decision to initiate a four-year utility fund increase.
“We now have four big $1 million projects that we call shovel-ready to go, so if the province announces an infrastructure program, we’re going to apply to see if one qualifies,” Dionne said. “If it does, then we’ll see our water rates drop … That’s what I’m hoping for.”
When it comes to the federal-provincial infrastructure plan, “what we need is less talk and more action,” Wotherspoon said. “The provincial government needs to start stepping up to the plate and investing directly into the infrastructure that is required.”
One component anticipated in this year’s budget will be added funding to the province’s municipal revenue-sharing program, Hickie said, citing the initiative that shares provincial sales tax dollars with municipalities.
“Revenue sharing for the city is also a critical component in the balanced budget format to ensure that the city has revenue … to offset costs for services increases, like police and fire,” Hickie said.
Last year, $237.4 million was shared among municipalities, of which Prince Albert received $6.66 million -- a 122 per cent increase since 2007.
This important funding goes into the city’s general operations fund, Dionne said, and helps mitigate local property tax increases.
Dionne plans on being in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan during the moment of truth, when the provincial budget is released on March 20.
“I think it’s important as politicians and as the mayor that I’m at the legislative building for that day,” he said.
“I’m not going to spend the time just waiting for the budget, I’m going to utilize the whole day by meeting with our local MLAs and (Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association) … to let them know that we’re still here … and alive.”