B.C. Finance Minister Carole James updates B.C.’s employment situation under COVID-19 restrictions, B.C. legislature, July 10, 2020. (B.C. government)

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

A combination of emergency pandemic spending and a steep drop in expected provincial taxes has B.C. projecting a potential deficit of $12.5 billion this year, Finance Minister Carole James says.

In an economic update July 14, James released projections of a $6.3 billion drop in sales and income taxes, natural resource revenues and Crown corporation income. Spending adds the rest to what started 2020 as a balanced budget with a $227 million surplus, adding a $6 billion more to the deficit.

James said the remaining $1.5 billion of the $5 billion emergency fund voted by the B.C. legislature will be allocated for economic recovery in September, after the government completes a public survey and continues meeting with business sectors on how to proceed.

Beyond the emergency spending for business and personal financial relief, more than $1 billion of the additional spending is in health care, including lab testing, supports for long-term care facilities, health prevention and contact tracing for COVID-19, and mental health supports. Another $250 million has been directed to maintain child care services.

Nearly $90 million has been directed to temporary housing, meal and health supports, in addition to $110 million to buy hotels to move people living in encampments.

Crown corporation income is projected to be down $882 million from the February budget forecast, which James said is mostly due to the shutdown of B.C. Lottery Corp. casinos due to the pandemic. ICBC costs have declined in the early part of the 2020-21 fiscal year due to a reduction in travel, but that could change as pandemic restrictions on travel are lifted and more people return to work, she said.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson warned of the impact of B.C. tax deferrals that are expected to run out this fall.

“Back in May we suggested a 90-day break on employer health tax, sales tax and hotel tax to get the economy rolling again,” Wilkinson told reporters after the update. “And instead what we saw the NDP do is say, no, they’re just going to let it pile up until September, October and send a huge bill to all these businesses when they’re least able to pay it.”

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