Local reaction to the 2019 B.C. budget is mixed, as local representatives see both positive and negative aspects to Tuesday’s financial plan released by Finance Minister Carole James.
The budget document includes an updated forcast of a $374 million surplus, and contains a number of spending initiatives focused on making life more affordable, delivering more services for families and investing in the economy, according to Minister James.
Specific items include a B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit tax credit, which is projected to return $400 million to B.C. families, starting in 2020, a 900 million investment into Clean BC, a plan to meet climate targets, and a $20 billion investment over the next three years into infrastructure projects.
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka noted the budget contained initiatives and programs that were worthy of praise, but also ignored some rural priorities.
“It just seemed like a lot of really good promises, lot of optimism and a lot of giveaways — some of these giveaways aren’t going to be happening until the fall of 2020 — and it just seemed to me it was some political posturing for a snap election,” Shypitka said.
Shypitka positively singled out interest-free loans for post-secondary students, an $85 million investment to support foster and adoptive parents, and a $3 billion revenue sharing commitment over 25 years with B.C. First Nations.
However, he expressed disappointment in a lack of funding for wildlife management issues and noted there were sparse details on supporting industry.
“Industry’s nervous, there’s lots of taxation, we’re putting us further and further behind on a competitive scale with the rest of the globe and this budget has done nothing to help us in that regard,” Shypitka said.
Given that the province has had the worst two wildfire seasons on record, the budget contains $111 million to combat and mitigate those risks.
Is it enough?
No, says Shypitka, but it’s a start.
“I give credit where credit is due,” he said. “They’ve recognized that wildfire mitigation is a big, huge deal and it is; we’ve seen two of the worst forest fires over the last two years, costing us over $1 billion.”
Shypitka lamented the loss of the revenue-neutral aspect of the former BC Liberal government’s carbon tax, which was returned to the pockets of B.C. taxpayers. Now, he says the government is spending $900 million on CleanBC, while the carbon tax is set to bring in revenues of $1.7 billion next fiscal year, with more to come as the tax increases over the next three years.
He also questioned the appeal of reducing tolls and offering rebates for electric vehicles in the context of the East Kootenay and other rural parts of the province.
“We want to transition to a low-carbon economy, there’s no doubt about it,” he said, “but how many people are going to be taking the offer up in rural B.C. when you need three-quarter ton trucks and work vehicles to get to and from to work and do heavy industrial work, as opposed to somebody in the Lower Mainland who can get around in their Leaf or their Tesla?”