Saskatchewan Finance Minister Ken Krawetz has tabled the provincial budget - a balanced financial plan that controls spending while making key investments aimed at ensuring a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people.
“Saskatchewan’s economy is strong and our budget is balanced,” Krawetz said. “This budget also balances continued growth with meeting the challenges of that growth. It balances economic progress with social progress. And it balances the need to control spending with the need to make important investments in key areas.”
Krawetz said one of those key areas is helping some of the most vulnerable people in our province.
“We are increasing support benefits for low income seniors under the Seniors Income Plan and for persons with disabilities under the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program,” Krawetz said. “We are doubling capital funding for para-transit buses and increasing transit assistance for persons with disabilities.
“And we are doing more to fight the scourge of domestic violence by increasing funding for women’s shelters, to facilities in Regina and Prince Albert that have been expanded, and by opening a new transition house in Melfort – the first new transition house in Saskatchewan since 1989.”
Revenue is projected at $11.61 billion while expense is estimated to be $11.54 billion. The General Revenue Fund is projected to post a $64.8 million pre-transfer surplus and a surplus of $149.8 million is forecast in the Summary Financial Statements, taking into account all government operations including the Crown Corporations.
“One of the biggest challenges of growth is making sure we have the infrastructure we need for a growing economy,” Krawetz said. “Today’s budget meets that challenge.”
The budget calls for oil royalties of $1.4 billion, with an average price of oil of $92.84 per barrel, and a Canadian dollar exchange rate of 98.92 cents U.S.
Overall, the government will invest $847.5 million in infrastructure projects this year, an increase of $59.8 million or 7.6 per cent increase from the previous year, and the highest amount budgeted for capital since 2009-10. The capital budget includes key investments in schools, health care facilities including hospitals and long term care facilities, post secondary institutions, roads, highways and municipal infrastructure. Since 2008, nearly $5.8 billion has been invested in Saskatchewan’s infrastructure.
Krawetz said another challenge identified in the government’s Growth Plan is labour force development – ensuring Saskatchewan has a highly-skilled, well-trained workforce to meet the needs of a growing economy.
“We know affordability of post-secondary education is an issue for students,” Krawetz said. “That’s why this budget increases direct student support funding by nearly $20 million or 20 per cent, to $117.4 million.”
*$63.9 million for the Graduate Retention Program, an increase of $12.2 million;
*$34.5 million for the Student Aid Fund;
*$7.5 million for the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship, an increase of $2.9 million;
*$6.5 million in new investment for the Saskatchewan Advantage Grant for Education;
&$5.0 million for other scholarships.
The 2013-14 Budget also includes increases to a number of important training initiatives including increases for 300 additional apprenticeship training seats, industry-driven skills training and Adult Basic Education. The budget also has increased funding for the Provincial Training Allowance, First Nations and Métis skills training programs like Northern Career Quest and the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Training Program at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.
Other budget highlights include:
*A $131.8 million increase, or 4.5 per cent for Regional Health Authorities base operating funding for health care, staff, drugs, medical supplies and other operating costs;
*$70.5 million for the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative to reduce surgical wait times, an increase of $10.0 million;
*$29.0 million to address health care demographic volume pressures from population growth;
*$4.3 million to establish Collaborative Emergency Centres and improvements to primary health care;
*$2.0 million for an innovative home care services pilot for seniors in Regina;
*$9.2 million for the third year of the federal/provincial Affordable Housing Agreement, to be used for new affordable housing, home renovations, home adaptations, and rental and housing supplements;
*$14.3 million (2.3 per cent) increase in post-secondary base operating grants;
*$10.0 million through Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to begin construction of a new student residence at the University of Regina;
*$17.0 million increase to support forecasted school enrolment increases;
*$20.2 million supporting 15 new PreK programs, for a total of 301 programs;
*$119.6 million, an increase of $7.2 million (6.4 per cent) for school capital projects;
*$1.5 million within Work Readiness to accelerate essential skills training and increase employment opportunities for First Nations and Métis people;
*Overall, $184.8 million, or $10.8 million more in targeted funding from government ministries for initiatives that will benefit First Nations and Métis people, including $3.0 million directed specifically to address future recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Improving Education and Employment outcomes;
*$5.0 million is provided to the new Creative Saskatchewan Product Development Investment Program to support growth and development in the creative industries sector;
*$576 million in highways and transportation funding as part of the government’s four-year, $2.2 billion commitment. This year $63.6 million is targeted to Economic Corridor projects such as the Regina West Bypass, the Estevan Bypass, passing lanes on Highway 10 and completion of the Highway 11 twinning initiative;
*$264.4 million, a $27.0 million (11.4 per cent) increase for municipal revenue sharing, part of $362 million in overall direct provincial support to municipalities, an increase of $19.6 million (5.7 per cent) from last year;
*A $2.0 million (8.5 per cent) increase to the municipal roads to the Economy program, bringing the total funding to $25.5 million; and
*$198.3 million for Crop Insurance, a record budget.
In order to offset an average 67 per cent increase in property values over the past four years, the government is lowering education property tax rates on all classes of property to keep the impact of re-assessment revenue neutral overall. The new education mill rates will be 2.67 mills for agricultural land (reduced from 3.91 mills), 5.03 mills for residential property (down from 9.51 mills), 8.28 mills for commercial property (there were previously three higher rates), and 11.04 mills for the new resource property category.
The Tobacco Tax rate will increase by 4.0 cents per cigarette, effective midnight Budget night, with a comparable increase on cut/loose tobacco. Liquor mark-ups will increase by approximately 3.0 per cent for all beverage categories, effective April 1.
The Growth and Financial Security Fund is forecast to end the year with a balance of $695.1 million. The fund will allocate $512.7 million for “Security” to address unforeseen events outside of the government’s control and will allocate funds of $182.4 million for “Growth,” for future infrastructure projects and debt reduction. Krawetz said that Premier Wall has directed that for now, the money in the fund will not be allocated to any specific projects until the impact of the potential floods this spring is known, so that this money will be available to cover flooding costs, if necessary.