By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 8, 2019.
This month’s ‘At the Legislature’ column by MLA Nathan Neudorf
On Oct. 24 our UCP government released its first budget. Contained in its plan is a thoughtful and comprehensive path to create jobs, protect vital services, and grow the economy, as well as attaining a balanced budget by 2023-2024. This is no easy feat, as the previous four years saw the province’s debt increase from $13 billion to $63 billion. This was an increase of over $12 billion per year on average.
Although much has been made of the Job Creation Tax Cut, with some believing that it will cost Alberta $4.5 billion in revenue, this is simply not true. Under the NDP, who raised these corporate taxes by 20 per cent, government revenue actually decreased. Capital fled the province under the last government, while companies relocated, jobs were lost and the economy faltered. In order to attract that investment back, each of the next four years will have a one per cent tax reduction. This year that one per cent might result in $100 million in lost revenue, but as the economy grows, so will that revenue.
In 1993, we saw budget cuts of 18 per cent across the board. In comparison, this budget is only 2.8 per cent over four years, while maintaining spending for vital areas such as health care, education, seniors, and those with disabilities. The investment of $20.6 billion into health care includes increases of $100 million for a mental health and addictions strategy, $40 million for a response to the opioid crisis, and $20 million for palliative care.
Education will receive $8.2 billion, which includes allocation of 2.2 per cent to fund for enrollment growth as well as maintaining the school nutrition program. Our government is committed to reviewing and revising the funding framework to seek greater efficiencies, less administration, and therefore more money to be spent directly on classrooms and teachers.
Some of the greatest changes will take place in the area of advanced education, as funding will be down five per cent from last year. Before panic ensues, there are a few facts to keep in mind as we evaluate what these changes mean. First, lifting the cap doesn’t mean tuition can rise without limit, as the maximum increase per year is seven per cent. That means on an individual student whose tuition is $7,500 per year, the maximum allowed increase is $525. Secondly, Alberta currently spends on average, $10,000 per student more than the other comparable provinces in Canada. In fact, over the past 15 years grant funding to universities has increased by more than 106 per cent, while enrolment has only increased 21 per cent.
Making some moderate changes now is not only fiscally responsible, but vital for the sustainability and long-term health of our advanced education system. Our social services received no cuts and there is a 7.6 per cent increase to Community and Social Services, a 1.6 per cent increase to Seniors and Housing, and a 15 per cent increase to Children’s Services. Although challenging to do in today’s reality, it is very important that we continue to remove the barriers to access for services for those who need them the most. A boost in funding to the apprenticeship model and an increase of $2 million for Skills Canada and $11.4 million for Careers: The Next Generation will ensure that more youth are considering the skilled trades as the cornerstone for their careers and futures. This funding will double the number of schools that work with Careers: The Next Generation – from 500 to 1,000 across our province. It will also quadruple the number of students and full-time apprentices from 1,567 to 6,000 by 2023.
Our government has had to make difficult, thoughtful decisions to reduce our deficit and work towards halting the growing debt. Budget 2019 has made these decisions with carefully balanced deliberation, ensuring that core services are not adversely affected and that fiscal responsibility is practised in every area of government. Through strong leadership and direction for government spending and investment, we will see our books balanced by 2023-2024. Having a responsible plan to create jobs, grow the economy, and protect vital services should give all Albertans confidence that this government is standing up for them.
Nathan Neudorf is the UCP MLA for Lethbridge East. His column appears monthly.