- In a fairly subdued budget release, Saskatchewan’s Finance Minister, Donna Harpauer, became just the second woman to ever deliver the provincial budget this afternoon. The government touted the budget as helping to keep the province on track to return to balance next year, while making major investments in health care, education, social services and infrastructure.
The province is spending $5.77 billion on healthcare this year, up by 2.5 percent from last year. It includes $3.5 billion for operating expenses for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. There is also some capital money being allocated within the budget for projects around the province, including the Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon. However, there was no money allocated for the building a new hospital in Weyburn.
Education saw a fairly substantial boost in the area. The government fulfilled the premier’s commitment to increase education funding by $30 million. The intention is to allow school divisions to maintaining, or hiring, up to 400 teachers and other in-school staff.
The education budget also includes $12.2 million in capital funding for the South East Cornerstone Public School Division. It will also increase the preventative maintenance budget by 15%.
The highways and infrastructure budget includes some plans for work in the southeast area. It will start with a 25 kilometre stretch of Highway 35 south of Weyburn. It has been previously revealed the province would like to perform work along 35 from the U.S border north to the Trans-Canada. Due to current traffic volumes on the highway, though, the work is starting close to the U.S. border for the time being.
The twinning project for Highway 39 appears to be all but dead in the water. It was announced the province will begin work on passing lanes for Highway 39 and Highway 6, starting off with the stretch of Highway 6 between Regina and Corinne this summer. This was alluded to in 2016 by Highways and Infrastructure Minister David Marit.
There will be a slight increase in the amount Estevan receives through the grants-in-lieu payments from SaskPower and SaskEnergy, as well as an increase in the SaskEnergy Municipal surcharge.
Overall this year will see the province continue to run a deficit. It will be $365 million this year, but part of the budget is predicated on the royalties earned from natural resources. The current WTI price of crude oil is well above what the government is basing its budget on. It is expected to have $700 million in royalties based on a price of oil at $58.00 a barrel. If oil prices stay above the $60 mark, as they have been for a number of weeks now, it will see the amount of the deficit actually shrink as quarterly reports are prepared by the government.
There are some changes to the provincial sales tax. While it isn’t increasing, the government is generating additional revenue by expanding what it will be applied to. Going forward, the PST exemption for light used vehicles will be removed on Wednesday. This will put Saskatchewan’s treatment of used light vehicles in the same line with the other jurisdictions which have a sales tax. PST will not be charged on vehicles gifted with families, and will not be applied to the private sale of vehicles with a purchase price under $5,000.
The PST exemption for Energy Star appliances is also being discontinued. The province is citing the energy cost savings already provide enough of an incentive for the purchase of the products.
We will continue to work on the coverage of the 2018 provincial budget, including reaction from those who are affected by it, and those who crafted it.