By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 18, 2017.
Half empty, or half full?
Responses to the Alberta government’s latest budget depend obviously on the perspective of the viewer.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci calls it “the foundation for a return to economic growth.”
With a growing population – and with oil prices gradually recovering – he reminds Albertans their province’s economy is expected to lead the way in Canada this year, with a 2.6 per cent growth rate.
For continued economic stimulus, his budget earmarks $4.5 billion for further infrastructure projects over the next four years.
For Wildrose leader Brian Jean, however, the new budget is “a debt-fuelled disaster” which will lead to more taxes. “The budget is a balance sheet meltdown,” he says, and it “mortgages Alberta’s future” with its projected $10.3-billion deficit this year.
Liberal leader David Swann applauds the government’s decision to continue investing in public services and infrastructure, to reduce school fees and to address the issues of environmental protection and climate change.
“These are priorities that Alberta Liberals share,” he says, while voicing concern about the province’s increasing deficits and debt. Alberta can’t continue spending at this rate “while relying on volatile resource revenue,” he points out.
“We need to have an adult conversation about spending and revenue.”
Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party, calls the budget frustrating.
“It doesn’t need to be this bad,” he says. There are more alternatives than “devastating cuts” or else borrowing and spending.
“They are not making the tough choices.”
Progressive Conservative leader Rick McIver, who’s about to be replaced today, had little to say. But the government has heard praise from other elected officials – and not just Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.
For our city, the mayor points out, the budget brought news of support for affordable housing, for industrial expansion and for the city’s own capital project financing – as well as continued support for growth at our college and university.
Speaking for cities and towns across the province, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association voices “cautious optimism,” pointing to the sad state of repair of municipal infrastructure in many communities. Local taxpayers can’t cover all those repair costs, it insists, so continued provincial assistance is essential.
As the collective voice of local government, the organization also applauds continuing support for Family and Community Support Services programs, for initiatives to reduce homelessness and for improvements o the province’s mental health and addictions treatment programs.
Educational groups – the Council of Alberta University Students, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta School Boards Association among them – also found reasons to praise the budget although they had hoped for more.
So who do you believe? Are we spending too much? Are we collecting enough in taxes? Should we be paying our way as other provinces do, through a sales tax?
For many of us, drawing up a family budget proves challenging. Putting together a financial plan for a city or an entire province would be mind-boggling . . . but that’s why we have experts in our public administration.
And why we have political parties offering different goals and different ways of reaching them. Clearly, a brightening economic scenario will offer governments of any stripe a little more elbow room.
Of course, that will also allow the federal Liberals to be a little more flexible with their spending priorities and grants.
And before long, voters will be asked to consider their current government’s budgets and programs, then head to the polls. Are our federal and provincial governments providing the services we want at a price we can afford?
Or financially speaking, do we want to head in a different direction? That decision is ours.
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