The 2012 provincial budget for Saskatchewan is a mish-mash of good and bad news, with cuts being in some very odd places in a year of a continuing strong local economy and prosperity.
As one budget watcher remarked to reporters, a year where the strength of Saskatchewan’s economy shows all signs of continuing is not the time for austerity measures.
That being said, there was funding announced in some important areas that will be sure to benefit many areas of the province; for example, municipalities will be receiving an increase, as will regional health authorities and school boards, with the latter finally receiving word on a new funding model. While some school boards will lose some funding (due to having a strong tax base), the Cornerstone School Division was not listed as one of those that will lose out.
The increase in revenue sharing was according to promises previously made to municipalities, so most towns, cities and RMs will be happy to receive them; the one disappointment, however, is that municipalities asked for infrastructure funding which was not granted (although there will be an infrastructure program later on).
One of the big disappointments of the budget was the puzzling cut of funding for the Enterprise Regions, which had replaced the local Regional Economic Development Authorities.
Why on earth did the government go to all the expense to set up the enterprise regions only to go and shut off the funding for it? It makes no sense, and the finance minister simply made reference to economic development decisions now returning to the municipalities. Well yes, they already had that with the REDAs; Weyburn still has its SEREDA office up, but there was no funding in this budget to run it.
In an era of growth and prosperity, when the province ought to be trying to take advantage so as to attract new businesses and industry, why would they take away the very organization set up to try and help municipalities do just that?
In the area of housing, there is a program to help give developers an incentive to build apartments; will this just mean more high-end condo apartments, or will it mean more affordable housing? This question remains to be answered as developers lay out their plans for upcoming projects.
Time heals all wounds, it is said — but will it provide the answers to how well this budget will work?