Provincial budget puts emphasis on restraint

Finance minister makes tough choices now, saving the better news for an election year

Restraint has become a way of life for many British Columbian families who have seen their costs rise while incomes fail to keep pace. So it should have come as no surprise that restraint was the word of the day when the B.C. government handed down its budget this week.

There were few frills in the budget delivered by Finance Minister Kevin Falcon that promised to return the province’s books to the black by 2013-14, just in time for the next provincial election.

Falcon’s budget promises to hold the line on program spending, freezing public-sector wages and selling off $700 million in provincial assets to begin to dig his way out.

But while the Liberal government is taking steps to get a handle on the province’s deficit — forecast at $969 million for the coming fiscal year — B.C. families will also have to tighten their belts just a little bit more. MSP premiums will rise for the fourth time since the 2009 election. The newest hit of four per cent beginning in 2013 will take about $60 a year out of the pockets of a family of three or more.

The budget delivered little, however, to stimulate the province’s fragile economy or open the door to the workforce for the unemployed.

A $10,000 tax break for first-time homebuyers is only for new homes, providing little help to young couples cobbling their pennies together to get into the housing market. And a $1,000 home renovation tax credit is only available to seniors. Eliminating those conditions for the tax breaks could have helped strengthen the softening housing market and opened up jobs in the construction sector.

The move to transition B.C. from the harmonized sales tax back to the PST left the minister with some tough choices to make. This budget makes it clear that Falcon wants to get those decisions out of the way now, saving the good news for next year’s pre-election budget.