Pandemic spending, no tax increases: Some highlights from the Alberta budget

By Canadian Press	
		Alberta to introduce budget Promising renewed fight on COVID-19 but more red ink

Finance Minister Travis Toews said at a Thursday briefing the plan will ensure Alberta gets through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alberta government will release a budget on Thursday that will reveal the ruin left by the COVID-19 pandemic and an oil price crash a year ago as the province lays out a plan to piece its finances back together.

The government is also earmarking $1.5 billion to support targeted strategies to help out key sectors, like agriculture, energy, technology and tourism, and plans for that funding will be released during the year. "Now, it is time for the rest of the public sector to do the same", said Rosin. The province is ramping up its vaccine plans amid fears of a coming third wave.

- Personal income tax to generate an estimated $11.6 billion.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on February 24, 2020.

"We're excited about the program", Toews told reporters.

"As much as I hate deficits, now would be the worst time to cut billions of additional dollars in spending when we need it in health care and we need it to help stimulate economic growth", he said this week. "The second priority ... is economic recovery and growth".

Oil prices have rebounded in recent weeks to above US$60 a barrel for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate, but Toews said the province can't count on or budget for renewed boom times.

Alberta was already in rough shape in early 2020, more than five years after oil prices collapsed and sent the province's economy into a downturn.

"This is in the grand tradition of Alberta governments for decades".

Overall funding for K-12 education in Alberta will go from $8.32 billion in 2020-21 to $8.24 billion for 2021-22, and stay that way for the following two years.

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However, due to COVID-19, the province is also falling deeper into debt and further away from balancing its budget.

Physician pay is estimated to cost the Health Ministry $5.2 billion, up from $5 billion in 2020-21, according to the budget.

One way the province is aiming to get its fiscal house in order is through accountability, with a bright spotlight shining on public sector compensation and getting Alberta's public sector spending in line with other provinces.

In 2021-22, total revenue is estimated to be $43.7 billion. "Right now, I think it's premature". The province is predicting more conservative WTI prices than the private sector, predicting $5 below the private sector average for 2021-22 and $2 below for the following year.

- Cannabis tax to come in at $105 million. The province could add billions in new revenue while still having the lowest consumer tax in the country, the council argued.

While Toews said there "are no new taxes or tax increases in Budget 2021", the province will have to eventually address the gaping hole in its revenues, which the minister said will be done by appointing a revenue panel.

ATA president Jason Schilling says documents usually released on budget day, including school funding manuals and school jurisdiction funding profiles, weren't made available Thursday and aren't expected to be released until next month. "What we really need to do is have a revenue model that is stable, certain, equitable, competitive and transparent".

The government will boost funding of health care by an additional $900 million.

The Opposition NDP says it wants to see more spending to keep people safe during the pandemic, clear up a backlog of surgeries and provide more support to businesses.

It includes new financial supports for working parents, $3.1 billion in economic recovery programs and stimulus, and the continued advancement of the largest infrastructure stimulus spend in Alberta's history - $20.7 billion that will create 90,000 high paying jobs, Toews said.

She also condemned the government's focus on cuts, arguing that it doesn't make sense to compare Alberta's spending with much larger provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, whose large populations provide economies of scale. The government said if the project does not proceed it will seek to recoup the funds.

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