The Liberal government’s budget completely ignores the Mount Waddington district, said the North Island’s NDP MLA.
“It ignored health care, forestry and education — there is really nothing there for the North Island,” Claire Trevena told the Gazette about last week’s budget that restricted spending increases and kept its small business income tax alive to meet its balanced budget target before the 2013 election.
“On the 100th anniversary of the BC Forestry Service, and in the wake of devastating reports on our forest health, it was disappointing to see no commitment to one of our most basic resources,” she said.
“The fact that our new hospital did not make it into the capital budget list for health care shows that the government doesn’t see the needs for our communities — then to add insult to injury, there’s going to be a fire sale of our public assets, whether those are school buildings, parking lots or crown land. It’s like selling the family silver.”
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon presented his first budget Tuesday, with a deficit of $969 million for the fiscal year starting April 1, as B.C. pays to end the harmonized sales tax.
His three-year plan predicts a $154 million surplus in 2013-14 and $250 million surplus the following year.
To do that, the budget aims to hold government spending growth down to two per cent for three years, with most of it going to health and education. That leaves most other ministries with little or no increase for inflation, a restriction that is expected to reduce overall B.C. government staff from about 27,000 this year to 25,000 by 2014-15.
Falcon also reversed course on business taxes.
The government has been promising for years that it would eliminate the small business income tax this spring, after lowering it to the current 2.5 per cent. Now it will continue at 2.5 per cent until B.C.’s financial picture improves.
That means the Liberal budget is more about political positioning than managing the province’s books, said NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston, who called Falcon’s target of two per cent spending growth for three years “unrealistic.”
“When he was trying to win the HST campaign, he proposed an increase in general corporate taxation from 10 to 12 per cent,” Ralston said after Tuesday’s budget speech.
“So when it’s politically advantageous, that prospect is dangled, but I don’t think they have any real intention of using that kind of taxation to meet the real revenue needs of the province.”
Falcon also announced a new seniors’ home renovation tax credit offers up to $1,000 for upgrades and modifications that allow seniors to remain in their homes.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair blasted the housing bonus, which he said goes mainly to wealthy people who can afford new homes, while government services for seniors, forestry and other needs can’t keep up.
“Right now we have the smallest public sector in the country, so obviously we’re struggling to meet those services,” Sinclair said.
“The message of this budget is, if you’re the one per cent, we’re going to take care of you, we’re going to make sure you’re well off. And by the way, if you want to buy your second vacation home in Whistler, we’re going to give you a tax deduction for that up to 10 grand.”
But it’s not so much what the budget contains that’s maddening, said Trevena, it’s what’s not in the budget that frustrates her.
“There are cuts to the forest service and absolutely no commitment to seniors’ care,” she said.
“Our seniors are like seniors everywhere, they want to spend more time in their own homes and not have their kids have to mortgage those homes to look after them.”
Trevena said it’s “terrifying” the province isn’t looking after the rural communities, especially when it comes to health care.
“What we’re seeing is the MSP going up where it will cost a family $732 more a year,” she said.
When it comes down to it, Trevena said it appears the Liberal government has chosen it appears the Liberal government has chosen to ignore the working people and the poor.
“They spend millions advertising to tell people how good they’re doing, yet (the budget) has left people without hope.”
—with files from Tom Fletcher