Opposition parties reacted swiftly to the Alberta NDP government’s 2017 budget presented on Thursday which projects a $10.3-billion deficit this year on revenue of $45 billion. While the budget will see Alberta go further into the red during already difficult economic times, it also promises a hospital, new schools and more money for seniors and social services.
The Wildrose official opposition referred to the budget as “a debt-fueled disaster packed with higher taxes and more of the same economic policies that will cost families and hurt Alberta’s prosperity for generations to come.”
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“The budget is a balance-sheet meltdown and mortgages Alberta’s future as it racks up a $71-billion debt by 2019-20 that will cost Albertans $2.3 billion in annual interest payments,” the party said in a statement. “Those interest payments are taxpayers’ money that will go straight to the banks and not towards hospitals, schools, teachers or nurses.
“By 2019-20, it will cost $16,049 for every Albertan to pay their share of the debt. Borrowing this year is nearly one quarter of the total budget.”
The Wildrose also said the NDP was exceeding its own “debt-ceiling” legislation of not allowing debt to be more than 15 per cent of GDP and said Alberta’s debt-to-GDP ratio is forecast to go over 20 per cent.
“This is an NDP budget fantasy stuffed with more of the same economic experiments that have failed Alberta for two years straight,” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said in a statement. “The NDP remain completely out of touch with life for real Albertans who are suffering today.”
“The NDP government is passing the bill onto our children to pay for a spending-bender that will leave us with $71 billion of debt before the next election,” Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt said in a statement. “This neglect of even basic fiscal controls and recklessness with borrowed money will take generations to recover from.”
READ MORE: Alberta budget 2017: Winners and losers
School boards and student advocates
The 2017 budget saw a number of investments in education, including a promise to increase funding to match enrolment, build 10 new schools and upgrade or replace another 16. School fees paid by parents are also being cut by $54 million.
“Edmonton Public Schools is pleased to see a steady commitment to education in this budget,” EPSB Chair Michelle Draper said in a statement. “Our student population continues to increase and today’s announcement acknowledges that, with a commitment to fund enrolment growth.
“We hope the infrastructure spending details next week will help address Edmonton Public Schools’ pressing need for new schools, replacement schools and school modernization.”
The Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) said it “welcomes the Alberta government’s commitment to funding new student enrolment growth” but also voiced concern that per-student funding has not increased in the budget “and, in fact, has continued losing ground.”
“It’s great news that the government is investing in building new schools and renovating others, and providing funding for new students coming into the system,” ASBA President Mary Martin said in a statement. “However, overall instructional funding is being eroded because it has not kept up with inflation, forcing school boards to continue doing more with less. This is a chronic problem and needs to be addressed.”
“Overall, this budget reflects good news for students,” Dexter Bruneau, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students and vice-president external for the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, said in a statement. “The government is demonstrating its commitment to the post-secondary sector and CAUS is content with the direction the government is taking.”
-With files from The Canadian Press, Caley Ramsay and Tom Vernon.