B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong revealed what he described as a "boring, balanced budget" Tuesday – one he said had a continued emphasis on job growth, skills training and education, helping families and providing additional resources for those who need it most.
"Most certainly we will continue to face significant challenges – some of which we know, and some which have yet to reveal themselves," de Jong said in his speech.
Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley, a member of the official NDP opposition, however, painted a bleaker picture of the next three years, calling the budget "depressing".
"It’s sad," he said. "Sadly this budget is going to make things harder for B.C. families."
With Hydro rates, MSP premiums, ICBC costs and ferry fares about to go up, there’s not much for the ordinary family, Routley said.
"By the end of the three-year term, we’re going to be paying $900, on average, more and it amounts to more than a billion dollars in additional revenue that’s going to
be taken, picking the pockets of British Columbians.
De Jong’s three-year fiscal plan will see Hydro rates increase for average customers by $477, an MSP increase of $400 over the three years, another $100 in ICBC fees and ferry fares jump to an average of $32 for a round trip.
But, de Jong noted, B.C. will boast a $184 million surplus by the end of this fiscal year – ramping up to a $451 million surplus by the end of the third year, something he said puts the province in elite territory.
"As you can see, that will grant us membership in a very exclusive club – provinces with a balanced budget. In fact, depending on what happens in Saskatchewan, it could end up being a club of one," he said.
That honour, Routley said, comes at a cost.
"We’ve got government claiming they’re balancing the budget but they’re doing it on the backs of ordinary British Columbians," he said.
Other highlights of the budget include: For families, an early childhood tax benefit, announced last year, will give up to $55 per month for families with children under the are of six from April 2015.
An additional $15 million over three years for Ministry of Children and Family Development for children and youth with special needs is also on its way.
And, as promised, a training and education savings grant will see a RESP contribution of $1,200 for every child born after Jan. 1, 2007. That initiative begins this coming April.
Older students can look forward to a $1.5 billion budget for capital funding for school replacement projects and an additional $2.3 billion in capital spending by post-secondary institutions though there was no specific mention of schools on the Island.
"If you look at the government’s own documentation they talk about spending money on post secondary but please take note that all that money is for capital expenses, at the same time they’re cutting their operating expenses which means the real service to students is going to be will be less rather than more," Routley argued.
The full text of de Jong’s budget can be found at www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca