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NDP MLA downplays Liberal budget

IT MAY not be a budget that survives beyond the selection of the next premier, but Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin calls the provincial Liberals' spending plan for the next year all wrong.

“What does it tell you that when they can come up with $6 million to pay the legals bills of Basi and Virk but are now cutting $6 million from crown prosecutors,” said Austin in referring to the provincial government agreeing to cover the legal costs of Dave Basi and Bob Virk, Liberal staff members who pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting benefits in exchange for leaking confidential information about the B.C. Rail bidding process in 2003.

“And they want to cut $21 million from forest health when we're hearing there aren't enough people in the forests as it is,” Austin continued.

Yesterday's budget was labelled by finance minister Colin Hansen as a transition document.

Provincial Liberals choose a new leader Feb. 26 who will also become the next premier and that person is expected to produce a budget suited to his or her direction for the province.

Yesterday's budget was required as part of the process to ensure the government has enough money to keep operating.

Even so, Austin said it tucks away nearly $1 billion in what he termed as a slush fund for the next premier.

“And since budgets are now part of a three-year plan, what this means is setting aside nearly $2.5 billion in unallocated revenue for the next three years,” he said.

And while Austin isn't necessarily opposed to tax cuts (this budget makes a promise to reduce the small business tax to zero by 2012), he says it gives the government no room to maneuver and no source of revenue.

One of the results is running a deficit which then translates into more debt, said Austin.

“I guess it's apparently fine when they run a deficit and a debt but it's only bad when we do that,” he continued.

Hansen's budget calls for spending approaching $42 billion with a deficit of $925 million. Total debt this coming year is forecast to be $53.4 billion, but rising to $60.4 billion within two years.

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