On March 26, Alberta Finance Minister Robin Campbell addressed the province on the 2015/16 budget for Alberta.
After spending $1,300 more per capita, compared to the national average, on programs and services last year, changes to spending outlined in the current budget will narrow that margin over the next three to four years. “We have told Albertans that tough decisions would be needed and budget 2015 reflects a balanced approach that will see us return to surpluses within three years,” said Premier Jim Prentice.
“The budget is the first step in a long-term strategy. This is the kind of planning and stability Albertans want for the long-term and immediate action to get us on the right path immediately.”
Alberta’s health-care budget will decrease 0.8 per cent to $159 million. The province said approximately $950 million will be absorbed in growth pressures through significant spending restraint measures from Alberta Health Services, as well as lower payments to primary-care networks and drug cost savings.
While funding to Alberta’s grade schools increased two per cent for the upcoming year, there are concerns class sizes will increase as well. The province will fund the final year of the Teachers’ Framework Agreement, increasing teachers’ compensation by $89 million to more than $4 billion. Due to growth pressures of $200 million, reductions, in part, will be seen at three per cent, or $78 million, to administration costs across the ministry and school board administrations.
3. Family Supplements
The province announced it will be “enhancing” the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit. Refundable tax credits will be phased-in at a higher rate and phased out at a higher income level, allowing families to earn more before the credits are reduced. Also, the Alberta Working Family Supplement is set to benefit working families earning between $2,760 and $41,220 annually. Families with one child may receive a maximum annual benefit of $1,100 depending on income with annual benefits for each of the next three children in the family.
4. Driving, Smoking, Drinking
For the first time since 1991, Alberta’s fuel tax increased four cents to 13 cents a litre. In addition, the cost of cigarettes will increase $5 per carton – the first price gain of its kind in six years. Alcohol taxes also increased for the first time in more than a decade to generate a further $75 million in revenue this year. The province has estimated all three tax increases will generate almost $700 million in additional revenue.
5. Human Services
The province’s Human Services budget will increase 1.8 per cent to $4.2 billion to support persons with developmental disabilities and clients receiving payment under the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program. Ministry-wide realignments and reductions will partially offset growth pressures of $200 million over the next year.