Skeena MLA Robin Austin says British Columbians should be suspicious of the Liberal budget released last week, as it relies on one-time asset sales of properties across the province to balance the books, likening it to “selling the family china in order to pay the rent bill.”
In the pre-election budget released last Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Liberal government proposed a combination of asset sales, tax hikes, and controlled spending to balance the budget, which some say borrows heavily from NDP proposals.
The government has its eye on selling over 81 properties across the province in order to generate revenue – these include empty lots and buildings.
“They’ve estimated this will bring in $625 million over two years and in fact, have already booked $400 million of that in this year alone in order to balance the budget,” said Austin.
He also questioned when the money will actually become available.
“These are properties that haven’t been sold, no lease or contract has been signed, no cheque is in the mail, no cheques been cashed, but apparently they think they could actually book $400 million of these one-time asset sales,” he said.
Another way the province hopes to raise money is through taxing higher-income earners, and raising MSP premiums.
“I think the tax hikes are an acknowledgment that both corporate taxes and personal income taxes have been lowered to the point that we couldn’t even cover basic services, and so certainly I’m in support of them bringing in more revenue to provide those services,” said Austin.
But he was critical of the hikes to health care premiums.
“In two years time the revenue from MSP premiums, our health care premiums, will be greater than that of corporate taxes,” he said.
“You’ve got the health care budget only going up by 2.7 per cent, but health care premiums going up by four – again another broken promise because they said last year in their budget that they would limit MSP premium increases to the same increase in the health care budget.”
The budget states that health care spending will only increase by 2.7 per cent next year. This is despite it increasing at an average of six per cent per year over the last eight years, said Austin.
“Bearing in mind that our population is actually increasing, bearing in mind that our population is aging, I think it’s very unrealistic to think we can actually limit health care expenditures to 2.7 per cent. The difference between that and what’s been happening in several hundred millions of dollars,” he said.
One item he was in favour of was the government’s proposal to provide families with young children $1200 to invest in future post-secondary education.
“Giving people the ability to save money for their children’s education in 10 or 12 years time, excellent idea, we certainly want to encourage people to figure out ways to help pay for post-secondary beyond the subsidy that comes from the public,” he said.
But Austin said the entire budget shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
“Very much of it is an election ploy,” he said. “One of the things we need to think about seriously, for any future government, is to move the date of the election to the fall so that any election that takes place in British Columbia in the future happens after the public accounts have been released in July … Certainly that’s something I’ll be supporting if we’re ever in government.”
For her part, BC Liberal candidate for Skeena Carol Leclerc said she was glad to see what she called a “no frills” budget.
“Having spent many years on [Terrace] city council and knowing what it’s like during budget time to meet as many of the needs of your constituents as possible and not place a financial burden on them, I was glad to see the BC Liberals take a conservative approach,” she said.