Finance minster gets budget input

As part of the province’s budgeting process, Red Deerians have been asked to give feedback and contribute to the discussion.

As part of the province’s budgeting process, Red Deerians have been asked to give feedback and contribute to the discussion.

The Thursday afternoon stop at the Red Deer Lodge was one of many made by Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner to help build the coming provincial budget. This process was similar to one done last year by Horner.

He outlined three ways these consultations added value to the most recent provincial budget. He said Albertans asked the province to spend within its means, which led to a zero per cent increase in operating spending in the 2013 budget; to save money, which resulted in legislation defining how much should be added to the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund; and to build the infrastructure the province needs to handle growth.

In the latest round of public consultation, Horner has been to communities in a series of open houses, or in the case of Red Deer, a roundtable discussion. He met with a group of about 12 local people to discuss the coming budget and what they think the needs of the province are.

“We are in a strong financial position, we’re not broke, we have savings — a lot of savings — we have almost $20 billion worth of savings, we haven’t blown through it as some would like to characterize it,” said Horner.

He said this year much of the discussion has revolved around improving infrastructure to handle and prepare for growth.

“You have to get ahead of the curve here a little bit,” said Horner. “We know people are coming in, so why don’t we try to get to that point?

“We’re quite a ways behind and it is going to be difficult to do that. But the No. 1 piece we’ve heard so far is we have to build the infrastructure.”

With the zero per cent operating increase and cuts to post-secondary education in the 2013 budget, Horner said this year they are also talking about protecting core government services.

“We had a tough budget, we had to make some tough decisions this spring because of the bitumen differential and because Albertans told us ‘We don’t want to see seven per cent growth in operating spending anymore,’ ” said Horner.

“We can afford to do some of the stuff (capital projects) now because we know we’re going to grow to five or six million people,” said Horner. “If you don’t do it, where are they going to go to school? The capital piece of this becomes part of the problem.”

As with other consultations throughout the province, Horner said the information gathered will be collated and brought to the treasury board, and the budget built from there.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com