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Saskatchewan budget brought down

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — A relatively few Saskatchewan seniors and families with children engaged in recreational, cultural or sports activities will find their costs increase as a result of the Saskatchewan budget delivered March 18.

Seniors with a net income of more than $65,515 beginning July 1, 2015, will no longer have their prescriptions capped at $20 per prescription. The Saskatchewan government said it will take about 6,000 seniors off the program. The previous income level was $80,255.

The Active Families Benefit of $150 per child per year tax credit for children under 18 will now be available only to families with a combined net income of less than $60,000. The Saskatchewan Employment Supplement available to low-income families will now be available only to families with children under 12 instead of 18. The program is designed to help families transitioning from social assistance into the labour force.

The combination of savings from the three programs comes to about $10 million. The government said the changes will make the programs more sustainable while still helping those in the most need. There were no tax increases.

Health, education and social services take up about 70 per cent of spending, with health at $5.128 billion, education at $2.001 billion and social services at $1.004 billion.

Despite a freeze on hiring, 2015-16 will see an increase of 49.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees at 10,995.4 compared to 10,945.6 in last year’s budget.

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz said the budget is balanced with a modest surplus of about $107 million with estimated revenues at $14,280 billion against estimated spending of $14,173 billion.

Critics argue that the budget is balanced only because the government intends to borrow about $700 million from capital markets, most of which will go toward infrastructure projects. Spending and revenue are both forecast to increase by 1.2 per cent, despite oil prices at less than half what they were last year.

The government is estimating a barrel of oil will average about $53 for 2015 and $67 for 2016. On budget day, March 18, it was about $44 a barrel.

Infrastructure projects include continuing construction of double lanes and passing lanes on major highways; school construction and repair projects, including nine joint-use schools announced in 2013 to be completed by September 2017; the next phase of the Regina bypass, which is described as the largest infrastructure project in the province’s history, and money for new hospitals.

The budget combines all government operations, including the Crown Corporations, operational and capital budgets.

NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon criticized the government for producing a budget with the wrong priorities and not doing enough to help seniors in care homes and low-income families while continuing to spend money on projects like LEAN.

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