Increased funding to social services, healthcare and education are among the highlights of the UCP’s recently released 2019 budget.
Health funding will be maintained at $20.6 billion, with a $160 million increase in funding to focus on mental health and addiction, opioid response and palliative care.
Education funding will be maintained at $8.2 billion, with $1.8 billion being spent in new capital funding for schools and new modular classrooms. The provincial government will expand the school nutrition program with $15.5 million to schools and $3 million for non-profits. The province will also help students better connect with industry and jobs through additional funding, including $10 million for Women Building Futures, supports to expand the apprenticeship model, an increase of $2 million to support Skills Canada, and $11.4 million for CAREERS the Next Generation.
The budget includes hiring 50 new prosecutors and expanding access to drug treatment courts. The province will increase funding to Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) and focus more money on addressing human trafficking, sexual exploitation and caseload pressures in Community and Social Services.
The government will maintain library service grant funding at $37 million, and the budget also includes implementing the TIER program to support climate initiatives, new funding for innovation, and introducing the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation.
Economically speaking, the budget makes a path to bring investment back to Alberta, creating jobs and growing the economy.
The budget includes the Job Creation Tax Cut, which reduces the corporate income tax rate from 12 percent to eight percent over four years so businesses can grow and create more jobs. The government is introducing enhanced capital cost allowances to further encourage business investment, eliminating the carbon tax, removing red tape to streamline government processes that impede job creation, and continuing to fight for pipelines and improved market access for Canadian energy. The UCP will make a one-time payment of $1.5 billion to end the crude-by-rail shipment plan announced earlier this year by the former NDP government.
The budget provides more than $200 million to support innovation, research and the commercialization of technology. This funding will leverage funding from partners and the private sector. In addition, Budget 2019 will also reinvest up to $40.5 million to bolster research and bring Alberta technologies to market in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Alberta is estimated to take in $50 billion in revenues for 2019-2020 while sitting on an $8.7 billion deficit. The UCP expects to reduce the deficit to $5.9 billion in 2020-21, to $2.6 billion in 2021-22, and then finally balancing the budget with a $584 million surplus in 2022-23. They will do this with a 2.8% reduction in program spending over 4 years.
The spending restraint means a 5 percent reduction in funds to universities, with the government lifting the tuition freeze, which will be capped at 7 percent annually to a maximum of 21 percent over three years, and increasing student loan interest rates by 1 percent. The government is trying to refocus universities and colleges to be more responsive to skills shortages and less dependent on government. The province will still invest $10.7 billion in the post-secondary sector over four years and will invest in attracting and retaining skilled workers by providing $2.5 million to support foreign qualification recognition, allowing newcomers to quickly rejoin their professions.
The public sector will be reduced by 7.7 percent over four years, mainly through attrition, and there will be no budgeted pay increases for public sector workers. Municipalities are being asked to do more with less. An initiative to help towns and cities with capital funding is to be reduced by $236 million over the next three years, equivalent to a nine percent cut.
Capital spending is being pegged at $24 billion over the next four years, about $1 billion less annually than the average over the last decade.
While support spending remains stable for those with special needs, certain programs such as the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped will no longer be indexed to inflation.
The province will increase the price of a carton of cigarettes by $5 to $55 and plans to implement a tax on vaping products. The cost of getting a drivers licence will increase by $5 from $75 to $80. The government will also introduce a tourism levy on short-term rentals such as Airbnbs.
MLA for West Yellowhead, Martin Long, says the overall goal of Budget 2019 is to balance the books.