Provincial budget includes deficit among record increases in education and health spending – DiscoverHumboldt.com

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With a tagline of Classrooms, Care and Communities, the 2024-25 provincial budget was tabled in the Saskatchewan Legislature this afternoon.  

The budget includes a forecast of $19.9 billion in revenue, which is up by $184.2 million from last year. The budget expenses are $20.1 billion, which means a deficit of $273.2 million for the current fiscal year. In presenting the budget, it was clarified that while there is a deficit this year, the budget is expected to return to a surplus for the next fiscal year based on revenues driven by economic growth.  

The revenues for the province primarily come from taxation, which accounted for 48.95 percent of the province’s revenues. Another 19.03 percent came in the form of transfers from the federal government, and 13.52 percent from non-renewable resources.  The remainder of the revenues are from own-source revenues and government business enterprises.  

In terms of expenses, healthcare is the primary place where the dollars are going with 37.94 percent, or $7.64 billion, of the budget. The second biggest portion of expenses is into education with $4.415 billion. This covers 21.92 percent of the budget, down from 26 percent 10 years ago. Spending on social services and assistance is 8.8 percent of the total budget, and agriculture covers 7.6 percent. The remainder of the expenses are for the protection of persons and property, community development, transportation, environment and natural resources, and economic development. There is 4.5 percent of the expenses for debt charges, which comes out to $912 million. 

In all, there is $4.4 billion in capital expenditures across all of the areas of the budget, and there is $4.4 billion in financing included in the budget. Finance Minister Donna Harpauer addressed this when speaking with the media. 

“As much as we would like to pay for new schools, new hospitals, new highways or highway repair and whatever, it’s limited how many taxes you can collect to just pay for capital, so we do borrow for the capital expense,” Harpauer explained. “As we borrow, we invest some of that money into sinking funds that will help with future payments.” 

The borrowing for capital expenses is increasing the provincial debt, which was stated to be at $34 billion as of March 31st of next year. There was no money included in the budget to help pay down the debt, and Harpauer stated there wouldn’t be unless there was an unexpected windfall. 

The budget did prompt a question of whether the province has a spending problem. 

“I would categorize it more of expense pressures due to the growing province,” Harpauer answered. “It is definitely record investment in education and healthcare, both of which I feel it needs to be done at this point in time. We do have a growing population, and we perhaps aren’t getting the revenues from that growth, we will into the future to help sustain the increases.” 

The classrooms part of the tagline came with an 8.8 percent increase in funding for education. The total amount, which is $3.3 billion, includes $2.2 billion for school operating funding for the 2024-25 school year. This works out to roughly $16,872 per student in operation funding for the K-12 system for the coming school year. 

The education portion of the budget includes $216 million for education capital projects. This includes ongoing funding for eleven projects that are already underway, three renovations that are underway, and the planning for the construction of nine new schools and two renovations. The post-secondary institutions will be receiving $793 million in funding, up from 3.7 percent last year. 

“This budget delivers the largest ever increase in school operating funding,” Harpauer said. 

The education budget also includes $66 million to allow for the current salary increase offer before the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. The province has offered to tie the wages of teachers to the consumer price index, similar to the structure currently used for MLAs and their wage increases. 

The care portion of the budget includes $7.6 billion for the Ministry of Health. Of that, $4.7 billion will be for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, up by 5.6 percent from the current fiscal year. There will also be $71.4 million for increasing capacity in the acute care system, and additional funding will be used to reduce wait times for medical procedures.  

The government is allocating more than seven percent of the health budget, or $574 million, to mental health and addiction services programs throughout the province.  

Capital spending on healthcare will see a $516.8 million investment. This includes money for the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital redevelopment project, the Weyburn General Hospital replacement project, a long-term care facility in La Ronge and work at the General Hospital in Regina.  

A portion of what is coming to communities was announced during last week’s SARM Convention in Regina. Speaking at the event, Premier Scott Moe announced there would be $340.2 million for municipal revenue sharing, up by $42.4 million from the last budget. The formula used to determine the amount paid out under the grants is three-quarters of one percent of the PST revenue collected two years prior.  

There is $719.4 million for the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety. The money is earmarked for the RCMP operations in the province ($228 million), the Saskatchewan Marshals Service ($7 million), and the renewal of the air tanker fleet used by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency to combat wildfires, as the current fleet is approaching the end of its useful life, among other things. 

In terms of affordability measures, the government touted in the days leading up to the election that there are more than $2 billion in affordability measures each year, and that would continue this year. This included removing 112,000 people from the income tax roll due to indexation. There is $17 million dedicated in the budget for the first year of the Saskatchewan Employment Incentive Program that was announced in the Throne Speech in the fall, along with the renewed PST Rebate on New Home Construction Program, and the secondary suite incentive program.  

Those who receive assistance through Saskatchewan Income Support and Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability can expect to receive a three percent increase in their benefits. Additionally, there will be more funding for residential and day programs for those with intellectual disabilities, along with new group homes.  

Infrastructure is always a key part of the budget, and the provincial government is setting aside $417.3 million for the improvement of 1,100 km of highways in the province. This includes 260 km of repaving and 765 km of light and medium pavement restoration. There is also $59.3 million to repair or rebuild 17 bridges and replace more than 100 culverts throughout the province.  

The cost of living in the province was also addressed in the budget, with a section devoted to illustrating how Saskatchewan has the lowest cost of living in many areas.  

“I’m not denying that people are struggling with the cost of living, but I go back to we’re still, though measures that this government has made, we’re the most affordable province in Canada with the fairly substantive reduction in the personal income tax,” Harpauer explained, adding the average family of four sees a $400 savings on income tax alone, with another $400 in savings on SaskEnergy bills due to no longer collecting the carbon tax on home heating.  

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