An Ordinary Week

I’d like to think that today is an ordinary day, in an otherwise ordinary week. But I can’t, and therefore, this isn’t going to be an ordinary post.

On Wednesday, Saskatchewan’s 2017-18 budget was announced, and it’s a doozy. Our PST has been raised by 1%, and expanded to now include things like children’s clothing, restaurant meals, and insurance premiums, but is maintaining the current exemptions like groceries, heating fuels, electricity, prescription drugs, and reading materials.

Some of the personal tax credits are being eliminated, like tuition credits and the employee’s tool tax credit. Even the labour sponsored venture fund credit is being reduced (though not completely eliminated). Education Property Tax (EPT) mill rate adjustments in conjunction with the 2016 reassessment will increase EPT and bring the contribution level to 40 per cent for K-12 school funding.

They are, however, enhancing the Saskatchewan Low Income tax credit to help mitigate the effects of these changes. Will it be enough for those who rely on that tax credit to make ends meet? Honestly, I can’t tell you. They are lowering the personal and corporate tax rate, as well. Sure, I’m cool with the lower personal tax rate, but I have really mixed feelings about the corporate tax rate being lowered. Yes, corporations generally make a lot more money than a person, so they should be paying higher taxes. I mean, come on! If they paid more, maybe we wouldn’t be hit with such a shitty budget! But if they do get hit with a higher tax rate, what happens? They take their business somewhere they can get a break, and even more people lose their jobs. It’s a no win situation. Having a low corporate tax rate acts as an incentive for companies to expand into Saskatchewan, helping to boost the economy, and creating jobs.

Another place in which I have mixed feelings is the decision to shut down the STC. Ridership has continually fallen (77% fewer riders last year alone than in its busiest year), yet the subsidies provided by the government have gone from $25 for each rider in 2007, up to $94 today. They projected that, should they continue to operate STC, it would cost another $85 million in subsidies over the next 5 years. Just to operate a company that a lot of people don’t use anymore. That is, until you look at all the small towns throughout the province. There’s an STC spot in almost every small town I’ve been to, and a lot of companies use them to ship parcels throughout the province, and we all know somebody who uses it to visit family. But when you think of government services, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a bus company, so again, mixed feelings on this.

Let’s move on to health care. In 2017-18, the total spending for health is looking to be around $5.6 billion, which is actually an increase of about $39 million from last year’s budget (or 0.7%). Of this, $12 million is aimed at helping to address the overcapacity issues and ER wait times we’ve been dealing with in Regina and Saskatoon. Cancer treatment will be provided to more patients through a $3.3 million increase in budgeted spending in the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, to $170 million. However, in order to afford this, a number of programs are being phased out, including the hearing aid plan, podiatry services and chiropractic services.

Long-term care home fees are also on the rise, effective July 1st. About half of the residents will continue to pay the minimum monthly fee of $1,086. For those who pay a portion of income to accompany the minimum monthly fee, the percentage of income is rising to 57 per cent from the current 50 per cent.

Now comes the even more fun stuff. Let’s talk about education! The total education expense is budgeted at $3.6 billion, which is DOWN $45.1 million (or 1.2%) from last year. Because, you know, schools already had SO much funding, so we could totally afford this. Saskatchewan’s 28 school divisions will receive $1.9 billion in school operating funding, which is actually down $22 million from last year. The government employees are taking a pay cut (3.5%), but they haven’t really talked about how they’re going to do it with the unions yet. We don’t pay our teachers nearly enough, so I worry about this.

Social services and assistance expense is nearly $1.4 billion in the 2017-18 Budget, an increase of $113 million (or 9.1%) over last year, and a 51 per cent increase since 2007-08 when total expense was $900 million. Child and Family Programs, Disability Programs and Income Assistance are seeing increases through the budget this year, as will the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement, Personal Care Home Benefit and Seniors Income Plan. So hopefully this will help mitigate the rise in the care home fees?

There is a lot happening here, and it seems that a lot of it isn’t good. I know that my family will be okay. We may need to tighten our belts a bit, but we’ll make it. But I worry for some of my friends. I don’t know how this will impact them. When I look to Alberta, I see a ballooning debt, with no forecast for paying it down. They seem to think you can spend your way out of debt. Some may say “but they’ll tax us to death here!” I hope beyond all hope that this won’t be the case. My family is fortunate enough to not rely on the low income tax credit, so I don’t know if the enhancements will make a difference. We have to remind ourselves of what Saskatchewan was in the past. A province that people fled, a Province that got out of debt in two years, but did so by cutting services and closing hospitals. We are definitely seeing a reduction in funding; there is no doubt about that. But we’re also seeing investments into infrastructure, which will help create jobs.

I definitely don’t agree with everything Brad Wall and the Sask Party have done. They spent the rainy day fund. I mean, we could obviously use that right about now. Those who remember the 80’s know that this stuff comes in cycles. We all knew there would be an economic downturn, there always is. But nobody seemed prepared for this. I don’t want to blame the Sask Party for that. I remember last year hearing that resources would be bouncing back in the summertime, yet they continued to fall. I truly don’t think anybody was expecting it to be this bad. So would our rainy day fund have come in handy? Sure, but I have a feeling we would’ve blown through that by now, and we would still be facing a tough budget.

Some say the NDP would’ve handled this better, but again, look to Alberta, and you will see what the NDP is doing there. Racking up more debt for our children to pay off. We elect our officials to make the tough decisions, and that is what Brad Wall and his Sask Party are doing right now. They could have said “We’ll keep spending, we’ll keep investing, we’ll keep growing that debt”. But instead, they said “We’re going to take care of this. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be painful, but if we do this, our children won’t be paying for our mistakes.” That said, I’d like to see them take more responsibility for the position we are in.

Saskatchewan, we are tough. We are resilient. We will buckle down, and we will do what we have to. And I want you all to remember, those of us who will make it through these next few years relatively unscathed need to keep in mind those who will be hit the hardest. Make sure you are doing what you are able to do in order to help. Donate your gently used clothing, so that those who are struggling can clothe their children. Donate to the food bank, so that others can feed their families. Do this, because we are Saskatchewan, and we take care of our own.

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