“We are turning down the tap on spending not only in the health care area, but across budget and when I release budget you’ll see where we can plan to go forward with operational spending which is good news for this province.”
Opposition parties say the government needs to take concrete steps to control spending. During question period in the legislature Wednesday, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the government needs to take a lesson from Alberta families who know what to do when times are tough.
“They’ve made big sacrifices just so they can pay their bills and their mortgage. It’s been a struggle,” said Jean. “But, for the NDP government it’s ‘let the good times roll. ‘Down turn, what down turn? Let’s just rack up some more debt.'”
The debt is now over 30-billion dollars and interest payments exceed one billion dollars annually.
Mount Royal University Communication Studies professor David Taras notes the cupboard was bare when the NDP came to power, but fiscal pressures are mounting. ”
They are now in a budgetary vortex,” Taras told Global News. “We’re now looking at [a deficit] that’s bumping up against $11-billion. I think what a lot of Albertans are worried about is what I call ‘Ontarioization’ where it’s just deficit after deficit and then it becomes a runaway train.”
Despite the ballooning deficit, Taras warns there is no appetite in Alberta for tax increases.
“People do not like the carbon tax. They feel they have been overtaxed. Polls are showing many people, 35 per cent, want the number one priority to be cutting taxes. They made a move with regard to slashing school fees by half, so there’s a shiny object out there. But they can’t go with any tax increases.”
Finding cuts, as the opposition parties insist, won’t be easy, according to Taras. He notes health spending accounts for 45 per cent of the provincial budget which will be further strained by a reduction in federal health transfer payments. “That is being cut from 6 per cent to 3.5 per cent,” he said.
“They’re facing an aging population. We have the highest doctor salaries in the country. We have skyrocketing drug prices. And we have now lineups and emergency room horror stories. So, there are problems that need to be fixed and very difficult to cut.”
Ceci will stand in the legislature to deliver the budget shortly after 3 p.m. MT Thursday.
with files from Global News.