There’s a too thin margin between surplus and defecit in the NDP government’s first official budget released Feb. 20, says Nechako Lakes BC Liberal MLA John Rustad.
And it wouldn’t take much for spending to run into the red warns Rustad of forecast revenues of $54 billion against a projected $219 million surplus, he said.
“That’s not even one per cent. If the economy declines, then we’d be in a deficit,” he added.
Rustad also points to the fiscal plan laid out by finance minister Carole James which calls for spending to increase approximately 20 per cent compared to the last BC Liberal budget of 2017-2018.
“Tha’s clearly unsustainable,” noted Rustad who fears there are tax increases looming in future years.
As it is, Rustad says this new budget raises corporate and other taxes as it is.
“What this is is a shift from employees to employers and that’s going to be tough for some businesses, a huge challenge,” noted Rustad in pointing to a new payroll tax meant to finance the elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums.
While busineses with a payroll of less than $500,000 won’t be charged, there’s an increasing payment scale depending upon business payrolls in excess of that $500,000 level.
“And with the minimum wage rising by 35 per cent that’s going to have an effect up the line [on other wage levels],” said Rustad of the planned increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Also set to increease in stages is the carbon tax which is now $30 per tonne of carbon emission equivalents to $50 per tonne, a factor that will result in people paying more for fuel and natural gas.
“For businesses, for the forest industry, that’s going to be a huge challenge,” said Rustad.
He’s also worried there’s no increase in the budget for the province’s forests ministry.
And while the government is to spend $72 million to finance measures to prepare for wildfires, Rustad notes that’s over three years.
“That’s not a very large figure,” he added.
Moreover, Rustad said he had difficulty in pinpointing anything speciific for northern and rural areas and, for that matter, to help grow the economy.
Rustad did acknowledge the NDP will spend money on initiatives to improve the lot of the province’s indigenous population, what’s needed are measures for indigenous people to take part in the economy to ease crucial problems of unemployment and social ills.
“A cheque from the government won’t solve it,” he said.
“When we were in government, we signed 535 specific agreements [with First Nations], said Rustad who was the BC Liberal aboriginal and reconciliation minister. “So far I’m not aware that this government has signed any.”
“Hopefully we’re going to see some movement and I’ll be keeping my eye on that.”
He’ll also be waiting on the detailed estimates for the provincial transportation ministry to determine what highway improvements are planned for the riding.
In past years, the ministry spent between $12 million and $16 million on highway projects along Hwy16 and other roads in the Nechako Lakes riding.