Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Budget Day, Part 2

Source: CBC News: Sask. Cuts $121M from $10B Budget

Well, as promised, here's my two cents on the budget that was introduced today by the Saskatchewan Party Government.

As expected, there were a number of cuts announced by Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer, and we'll be taking a closer look at those cuts and what they're likely to mean to Saskatchewan.

First, we have the confirmation of the civil service cuts that we've been expecting for the past few weeks. The number falls a bit short of the 4% reduction every four years, but still will eliminate 1,800 jobs from the Saskatchewan Civil Service. Gantefoer has defended these cuts by saying they will mostly come from programs which are winding down or by leaving unnecessary jobs vacant. However, this comes on the heel of 100 civil servants being handed pink slips today as the budget was brought down. I assure you, these are the first of many lay offs, as these 1,800 jobs we're about to lose cannot be all vacant and in winding down programs. Furthermore, expectations for this year are around 529 positions being lost.

I've defended the civil service before on this blog, and will continue to do so, because we all know the important role the civil service plays in government, and we all know how in dire times they quickly become the first of many targets by right-wing governments. Gantefoer and Wall can say that these cuts will not impact services, or that they will only come from 'non-important' departments, but we all know the fewer people doing something the longer that something takes; by which I mean, we will see a decrease in services somewhere because of these jobs not being filled, and these jobs being taken away.

Perhaps the strangest announcement is the decrease in spending towards capital projects; roads, infrastructure development, etc...A subject which the Saskatchewan Party often carried as a rallying cry for their supporters. While in opposition, the Saskatchewan Party often condemned the state of Saskatchewan's roads, and vowed that if they were ever elected, they would invest in fixing these conditions. Well, after getting elected, all we've seen from the Saskatchewan Party is their taking credit for road improvements started and funded by Lorne Calvert's NDP Government, with little real improvement from their own caucus towards this issue. Now, they've scaled back funding to the issue all together.

In addition to this, Saskatchewan's overall revenue for the year is down $711 million dollars from last year. Add to that the fact that government spending has only been reduced by 1.2% from last year, and we begin to see that this type of spending is not sustainable.

The Sask Party has not included income tax or provincial sale tax increases in this budget, because everyone knows what a bad omen that is for a party come the next election; but they continue to spend recklessly. After all, this budget only cuts 1.2% of last year's spending, which is hardly the 'belt tightening' Minister Gantefoer seemed to talk about prior to the budget being introduced.

All this budget has done is paved the way to decrease the civil service, without actually saving any money for Saskatchewan taxpayers in the long run. As I've said before, the last time the Sask Party Government laid off civil servants, we paid a generous severance package of $4 million dollars and change. With 100 laid off today, 529 in the year to come, and 1,171 over the next four years, we're going to see large severance pay outs that in the long run will cost Saskatchewan more than keeping those civil servants working.

In other money saving efforts, the Wall Government has dropped programs to help finding staffing for hospitals. With the exception of finding new doctors, programs helped to find R.N's and L.P.N's, as well as other hospital staff, have been cut. Despite all their grand standing about wanting to cut wait times and make sure our hospitals are well staffed, this seems like a confusing message to send out to Saskatchewan residents. Furthermore, the Wall Government has removed government subsidies to allow citizens to visit chiropractic services, instead replacing it with a system that restricts low-income citizens to 12 paid for chiropractic visits a year.

Of course, all of this is going to have an effect on health care delivery in our province. The division with the chiropractic delivery is structuring a sort of two-tier system; where those who can't pay for the service are restricted by how often they can see a professional, while those who can pay for it are now welcome to do so. There's numerous ways to say that in the province that was instrumental for creating medicare, that this system is wrong. And my only concern is that if we as citizens abide by this, how long will it be until we see an Alberta system of health care premiums? How long until we have private paid for clinics, where the rich are able to jump ahead in line, simply because they have an extra few thousand dollars? This could very well be a litmus test for our province, and I hope, it is not one that we fail.

And of course, everyone's favourite topic: The budget's increase on 'sin tax'. Sin tax generally refers to levying a higher tax on things that usually aren't good for a person. As such, the budget has introduced a motion to add an extra 2.7 cents per cigarette per pack; while at the same time adding an extra cost on alcohol, roughly 75 cents more for a dozen beer.

Now, this may be where the Sask Party and I can share some ground. Cigarette smoking is a very harmful activity for a person, and the increased costs that a smoker can put on our medicare system can be staggering. So, in principle, I have to say I can at least agree with a higher tax on cigarettes; even if smokers will already tell you that cigarettes are taxed enough.

So, ultimately, what has come from today's budget?

Pretty much nothing. The problem with this budget, as expressed by NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter, is that we cannot really trust the Saskatchewan Party's numbers. They've said that their cuts, to chiropractic services for example, will save Saskatchewan $10 million dollars. They've also said they expect to make $220 million from potash this year, which barely pays back what we ended up repaying to the companies because of the royalty rate of $1.9 billion; and we can expect to see $1 billion from oil revenue.

The problem, as with most budgets, is that most of these numbers are based on guesses. Educated guesses, perhaps, but guesses none the least. Sometimes we'll take in more, sometimes we'll take in less. The biggest problem is that the Saskatchewan Party is really doing nothing substantial in reeling back spending, other than placing the blame of the inflated civil service. so, our guaranteed income, from things like taxes, remains low while our speculative income, from resources, seems to be the driving bet of our budget.

And of course, given how accurately they predicted last year's budget numbers...I'm hoping, to borrow a phrase from The Who, that we don't get fool again.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Oh, and one thing that slipped my mind but deserves mentioning; is Gantefoer's claim that this is a balanced budget...

Balanced, only because they've already taken $194 million dollars from the 'rainy day' fund...Food for thought.