Saskatchewan Finance Minister Ken Krawetz has tabled a budget that holds the line on spending and doesn't increase taxes.
The budget includes $14.07 billion in revenue and $14 billion in spending - leaving a thin surplus of $71 million.
Krawetz says the province had to keep spending in check because revenue is down 0.7 per cent compared with last year.
"This budget will keep Saskatchewan on the path of steady growth,'' Krawetz said Wednesday. "It is a balanced budget. It contains no tax increases. It controls spending, while still making important investments in infrastructure and important investments in people.''
As usual, the biggest chunk of the budget is for health care. Health costs account for nearly $5 billion of the budget, including $60.5 million for a surgical wait-list initiative.
There's $800,000 to develop a house-call program for seniors to keep them out of hospitals, $2.2 million for 500 more child-care spaces, $815,000 to implement an anti-bullying and cyberbullying plan and $50 million for a new stadium in Regina.
The province also says it will create a Counsel for Children Office. Children's advocates recommended more legal representation for youngsters after B.C. Social Services placed a little girl with her drug-addicted, abusive grandfather in Saskatchewan.
Despite the tight budget, Krawetz said the government decided not to raise the education part of property taxes to pay for things such as roads and bridges - something Premier Brad Wall recently mused about.
"Our position has always been that tax increases are a last resort and while we were looking at many different options to Treasury Board, we decided that the current plan of moving Saskatchewan forward would mean that we would not increase education property tax,'' said Krawetz.
The budget also said the province won't put money into a fund for future development until the $3.8-billion debt is paid off - despite a report recommendation that a savings fund created using non-renewable resource revenues should be a high priority.
The report said the province should put a cap of 26 per cent on the amount of resource revenue it uses for purposes other than deposits to the fund.
Krawetz said the money just isn't there this year.
"I don't have any loose change kicking around,'' he said.
"If we have windfall revenue on the non-renewable resource side, and it exceeds $3.1 billion, and it's more than 26 per cent, I daresay our cabinet and our caucus are going to look at opportunities to create the fund. At the moment, we want to pay down debt.''
The Opposition NDP said the decision breaks a promise Wall made last fall to try to save money for the future while also paying off the debt.
"It's a flip-flop as far as the premier's commitment to this,'' said NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon. "It's a lost opportunity for the next generation to take ... (what) we've been presented currently out of this period of economic strength and resource wealth to put some of those dollars away for the long term.''
The NDP said it's also concerned that the budget doesn't allocate more money for seniors care homes.
The Opposition likes that the province decided not to raise the education part of property taxes. It also likes that the government has shifted how it reports for the budget.
Saskatchewan is changing its focus to a summary budget, as recommended by the provincial auditor. A summary budget takes into account all areas of government, including Crown corporations.
The province also used to present a budget for the General Revenue Fund, but that just looked at program spending. The auditor said two sets of books was misleading.
March 2015Download PDF