VICTORIA – The B.C. government has increased its projected surplus for the year to $266 million, up $87 million from the July budget estimate.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said taxation and natural resource revenue are running ahead of projections, based on results of the first quarter of the fiscal year. That was offset by unexpected costs for flood control this spring and a forest fire season expected to be one of the costliest on record at $350 million.
The budget surplus is enough to provide a a pay increase and other improvements to striking teachers, but what the union is currently asking for amounts to $315 million more than the government is offering, this year and every subsequent year, the finance ministry calculates.
De Jong said giving in to the B.C. Teachers' Federation demands, including their proposal for class size and special needs support, would equate to an increase of $140 a year for the average personal income tax, or 4.8 cents per litre in gasoline tax.
Increasing the government's offer or gambling on the results of binding arbitration would have a ripple effect on other public service unions, both those who settled for less and those who still have to reach agreements under the government's bargaining mandate, he said.
NDP critic Carole James said arbitration in the teacher case isn't "opening the flood gates.
"In fact binding arbitration when the parties are close, will take a look at the pattern of settlements, will take a look at the money that's on the table, will take a look at the two parties, and resolve this," James said.