Harvesting a bigger debt in Saskatchewan

A big drop in revenue has pushed Saskatchewan’s expected $434-million deficit for this year closer to $1 billion.

REGINA — A big drop in revenue has pushed Saskatchewan’s expected $434-million deficit for this year closer to $1 billion.

Finance Minister Kevin Doherty says that’s because revenue is down $600 million. The province is bringing in less in income taxes, provincial sales tax and its fuel tax, Doherty said Wednesday.

“You combine all of those together, it’s about $400 million down from what we forecast at budget on June 1.”

And revenue from natural resources is down about $200 million, primarily because of lower potash and uranium prices, he added.

Doherty said he’ll provide more details on the deficit and measures to curb it in a budget update soon.

“There’s been some promises made in 2007, the 2011 election and again in 2016, campaign promises made by this party that have costs associated with them that we’ll perhaps be either suspending or rolling back when we announce mid-year next week.”

The Saskatchewan Party campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes this year, Doherty said, but the public may feel the pinch as the government looks at ways to save money.

“We have a level of spending that’s not sustainable at the current levels of what our revenues are.”

The province has to get “at the heart of the matter” by looking at where the vast majority of money is spent, he added. Most of the provincial budget goes to health, education and social services.

The finance minister said it will be difficult to balance the budget in the next fiscal year — which he had previously said was the government’s goal.

The province has already appointed a special commissioner to recommend options for fewer health regions and more efficient delivery of services. The same kind of review is being done of the kindergarten to Grade 12 school system.

Cost-cutting measures have already been brought in.

A drug plan for children and seniors was increased by $5 a prescription to $25. That affected 66,600 families and 120,000 seniors. A tax credit for families with children in cultural, recreational and sports activities was also scrapped and urban parks in five cities lost funding.

The Opposition NDP said a ballooning deficit is the reason the Saskatchewan Party didn’t release the budget before the April 4 election.

“This summer they went back to the secrecy and refused to release a quarterly update,” said finance critic Cathy Sproule.

“And now they’re playing politics with leaks outside of the assembly and are trying to soften the ground, so they can bring even more cuts at a time when nearly 11,000 more Saskatchewan people find themselves looking for work compared to a year ago.”

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