Government tables its budget

by Colin Smith

Morinville residents along with other Albertans will be contributing more to the provincial government led by Premier Jim Prentice to help make up the shortfall in its 2015 budget, brought down today.

However the town itself may not suffer from cutbacks to provincial funding for community services and capital projects.

Gasoline, tobacco and liquor taxes increase immediately, traffic fines will go up by 35 per cent and a host of user fees will also rise.

Individuals who have a taxable income of more than $50,000 per year will start paying the Health Care Contribution Levy, and those bringing in more than $100,000 will see their provincial income tax rate go up.

Through these means the government expects to raise $1.5 billion in new revenue in 2015-16 and approximately $2.7 billion by 2019-20.

Budget cuts within government departments including Alberta Health, which will a see a reduction of $159 million, and cuts in grants to secondary institutions are among other measures that will help narrow the gap between projected government revenues and expenditures.

With total spending at $48.4 billion in 2015-16, down $323 million from 2014-15, the government is still estimating a deficit just short of $5 billion.

In what is now a familiar story, the shortfall is attributed to the precipitous drop in oil prices that has cut expected resource revenues by $5.9 billion.

Along with a 10-year fiscal plan the government says will better manage energy revenues, a new five-year capital plan was announced.

Under the $29.5 billion plan, roads, schools, hospitals and other public facilities on a priority basis, and will triple the funding for maintenance and renewal by 2019-20.

The government has committed to building all the schools it has promised. Funding of $5 billion will be made available, with $4 .1 billion for construction and $909 million for maintenance and renewal. There is $2 billion budgeted for 57 new and 20 modernization projects under Phase 3 of the school capital build.

Municipal infrastructure support funding will be to the tune of $7.9 billion over five years, including: $5.6 billion over five years under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), including $1.8 billion in basic municipal transportation grants.

MSI funding is being reduced by $373.9 million reduction in 2015-16, but that will be offset by $398.9 million added in 2014-15.

The New Building Canada program will provide $188 million from the Small Communities Fund under the New Building Canada program.

Since the program began in 2007, Morinville has received more almost $18 million in MSI funding, including a recently announced grant of $9,131,300 to go toward construction of the new recreation facility.

“During our budget consultations, our municipal partners told us that maintaining stable Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding was important to them,” said Diana McQueen, Minister of Municipal Affairs.

“With the inclusion of more MSI funding in last year’s budget, municipal infrastructure funding will remain stable in 2015 and will help ensure municipal projects continue to support economic development and local employment.”

New Democrat leader Rachel Notley said the budget asks regular Albertans to pay more out of pocket, while they get less of vital public services like education, health care, child protection services and post-secondary education.
“These taxes will hit working and middle income families the hardest while deliberately refusing to rollback their tax cuts for the most profitable corporations,” she said.

According to Heather Forsyth, leader of the Wildrose, the budget represents the largest deficit and tax hike in Alberta history.

“Mr. Prentice is making Alberta families pay the price for the PC party’s waste and mismanagement through the largest tax increase and deficit in Alberta history,” Forsyth said. “This budget is tough on taxpayers and easy on PC waste.”

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