Tory Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Lyle Oberg unveiled the 2007 Alberta budget Thursday afternoon. Yours truly was there to take in the show.
Having received a nice invitation from Advanced Education & Technology Minister Doug Horner, I was privileged to sit in the Government Members Gallery to watch the budget announcement. In a random occurrence, I sat beside and had a really good conversation with Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd.
I have mixed feelings about this budget. It was nothing awe inspiring or amazing but seems to be an attempt to deal with some of the backlog and problems accumulated over 13 years of Tory mismanagement under the now defunct-Ralph Klein regime.
In total, the announced 2007 budget totals over $33 billion. The largest budget ever seen by Albertans.
Here are some of my reflections...
The nearly 40% increase in infrastructure funding for the infrastructure deficit was summed up well by Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft: "This is the price of bad management".
After years of only focusing on debt repayment while allowing Alberta's infrastructure to languish for 13 years, the $18 billion in announced capital spending seems to be an attempt to heal this scar. This problem is going to need a lot more than band-aids, it will need suchers. The $18 billion will point Alberta in this direction.
TAX CREDITS FOR STUDENTS
An increase in the Education Tax Credit from $450 a month to $600 a month for post-secondary students. Considering that most students don't earn enough money to claim the tax, this won't have much of an effect on enrollment. If the Stelmach Government's objective is to increase enrollment, especially among under-represented groups, continuing the failed policies of yesterday that encourage student indebtedness while doing nothing to reduce the upfront costs represents a lack of vision.
There was also a large increase in student finance funding. The devil will be in the details whether this will be an innovative change, or just creating new and exciting ways for students to get into debt. Sources say that there will be more student finance announcements early next week.
Out of the $400 million going to Alberta's municipalities, $100 million of that is earmarked for affordable housing projects. Though this $100 is a substantial committment to creating more affordable housing in Alberta, this is a problem that requires provincial leadership under a province-wide strategy in dealing with this fast growing issue.
Oberg announced a 16% increase in tabacco taxes declaring that "smoking kills!"
PICKING A FIGHT
The 3% budget increase for K-12 Education and the unilateral decision to tie $25 million of funding for the Alberta Teachers’ Pension liability to labour peace put forward by Education Minister Ron Liepert’s looks to me like posturing for a bigger fight. Look for an ATA-Tory showdown this year.
Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft:
“This budget may sustain the PC party up until the next election, but it won’t sustain this province in the long-term,” says Taft. “It’s a fire alarm budget. This government is racing around putting out political fires but not making the province safer in the long term.”Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier:
""For the past four to five months, I have certainly been singing the praises of the new premier and his government," Bronconnier said. "I took the man at his word, privately and publicly, that this is what would take place. "This budget constitutes a half-kept promise."NDP MLA David Eggen:
"“Teachers across the province will see this as a provocation,” said Eggen. “This government has neglected the unfunded liability in the Alberta Teachers’ Pension Plan, for years. Now they’re trying to leverage that neglect to get teachers and school boards to give up their right to collective bargaining.”Alliance MLA Paul Hinman:
"We need a true conservative budget, not a phoney conservative budget."And finally, thank goodness Graham Thomson is back. Thomson put it well in his Friday column:
"What many agree on is, this is a budget trying to right the wrongs inherited from the Ralph Klein years. In that sense, it is a budget that talks of the future but is a victim of the past.