Friday November 21, 2014

EDITORIAL: Gov’t holds on for election year

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The 2014 provincial budget was brought down with a very minor decrease in spending, but at least no new taxes were brought in for the taxpayers of Saskatchewan.

The decline in spending, correlated with the decline in revenues of some 0.7 per cent, resulted in a budget that looks oddly like a government wanting to hang on for their upcoming election year rather than meeting some of the needs that exist in the province.

It also resulted in some continuing disappointments locally; the Southeast Cornerstone School Division was expecting an announcement regarding their ongoing capital projects in Weyburn, and the Sun Country Health Region has been awaiting word on a new acute-care hospital for Weyburn, now still somewhere on the back burner on the list of projects.

One good piece of news was word that pre-construction work to twin Highways 39 and 6 between North Portal and Regina will begin this year, the start of a multi-year project to finally get the roads to the resource-rich southeast region. This does set us down the road, so to speak, towards meeting this long-standing need, but this doesn’t answer the other long-standing needs that were not mentioned in this rather tight budget.

When will the long-suffering residents of Weyburn and area hear about the new acute-care hospital, for example? The present hospital has been in bad shape and has been inadequate for the care of patients for years, and it appears it will continue to be, in spite of the huge success the Weyburn and District Hospital Foundation has had in raising the community’s share of the costs of construction.

On the side of fiscal responsibility, the spending was kept within the estimation of revenues of $14.07 billion, without a deficit from over-spending in a year when the boom is not at the level it was before. The estimation of revenues is a bit of crap-shoot anyway, but in this case, the government seems to be low-balling the estimates, in case the revenues aren’t there as predicted.

One of the positive aspects of the budget was something that wasn’t included, namely the threatened increase of education taxes on properties to help pay for infrastructure projects.

 If this is a tough year as the budget seems to indicate, this would have been a bad year to implement such an increase, and property owners can be thankful it didn’t come to fruition.

Another aspect not included in this budget was that the government decided to maintain the same tax position for credit unions as before, in an apparent recognition of their place in Saskatchewan’s economy, and of the fact they face challenges in raising capital.

In terms of municipal funding, Weyburn is getting a reduction of $61,314 in municipal revenue sharing, instead of the steady yearly increase the city had been receiving since 2007-08; the reason was pegged to a difference in how the PST is reported, which hardly explains the reduction in how much the city is getting, particularly when it’s entitled to a better deal under the government’s own terms. It’s simply a way to cut back and pretend it’s not hurting anyone.

The whole issue comes back around to whether this was the right thing to do at this time, or is this a politically opportunistic budget, where spending on some of the necessities will occur next year, the year of the next provincial election? Or, worse, will the Weyburn area simply have to keep waiting for the news they’ve been waiting for years to hear?

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