Alberta has introduced legislation that would require it to keep a tight rein on spending, save for a rainy day and continue to pay down debt.
Finance Minister Travis Toews introduced Bill 10 Thursday, which would mandate balanced budgets, limit expense increases and set policies for surplus cash, among other things.
It would also enable the government to keep all investment income within the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.
The United Conservative Party government is forecasting a $2.4-billion budget surplus for the 2023-24 fiscal year, with plans to take a big bite out of the province’s debt and help prevent deficits when oil booms go bust.
With a population of 4.4 million, the province is on track to take in $70.7 billion in revenue and spend almost $67 billion. Another $1.5 billion is being set aside for unforeseen spending emergencies.
The province also plans to put almost $2 billion to top up the heritage fund nest egg to $20 billion.
“A compelling data point that’s worth noting: if we had kept all of the previous earnings in the fund from day one, instead of $18 billion, we would have a fund approaching $300 billion,” Toews said Thursday.
“As a lifelong Albertan, I wish we had been in a position to start saving earlier. However, the best day to start is today.”
Toews said there is enough flexibility in the bill that it should stand the test of time.
But it’s not written in stone.
“The reality is a fiscal framework can be changed. We bring it in by legislation and future governments would have the ability to change it,” he said.
“If we bring in a fiscal framework with a requisite flexibility I believe these rules will be durable. They will work for Albertans and there will then be a real political cost to changing them.”
The legislation would also tie future municipal funding levels more closely to provincial revenues.
Toews said in discussions with municipalities, there was a need to have more predictable and consistent funding.
He said the bill would “strengthen the partnership with municipalities and enable them to share more fully in the ups and downs of provincial revenues.
“Starting in Budget 2025-26, percentage changes in municipal funding levels would be equal to percentage changes in provincial revenues from three years prior.”
Other highlights of the bill include a two per cent cap on future tuition increases, a new agri-processing tax credit and covering dental, drug, vision and other supplemental health benefits for children adopted in Alberta from government care or a licensed adoption agency.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.
By Bill Graveland in Calgary