EDMONTON — Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann says he’s not surprised the Tories are scrambling to come up with $2 billion in the wake of lower-than-expected oil royalty revenues.
As Albertans brace for program cuts and tax hikes, Swann points to a history of inefficient government spending.
He says it “reflects a lack of planning and saving and preparation by this government for the very predictable bust that comes in an oil and gas province.”
This past Thursday and Friday, the government called together various stakeholders to ask for suggestions on where it can draw funds for the “fiscal correction,” as it was called in the budget.
Documents explained “nothing’s ruled out” except for a sales tax.
Swann says the Liberals have already pointed out things such as $60 million in grants to horse racing to the big pay boost members of the legislature got last year.
Scott Hennig, the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said they’re coming up with suggestions to put forward by the Tories’ end-of-summer deadline.
But he said he’s still worried higher taxes will result.
“The true test for us is what’s going to happen at budget time,” he said. “We made our position clear. We know Albertans have no interest in tax hikes. Next to Newfoundland, this is the biggest spending province on a per person basis and there’s room for cuts.”
Currently, Alberta is facing a $4.7-million deficit budget. If the $2 billion isn’t created by what will likely be a mix of tax hikes and program cuts, that already record-setting number will grow.
Low natural gas prices, which are hovering at around $3 per gigajoule, are also contributing to the situation. Currently, the budget forecasts a year-long price of $5.50.
Every 10-cent rise or fall in prices comes out to $126 million in revenue for the province.
“I think the government has a lot to answer for,” Swann said. “We have a wonderful, bountiful province and we’ve squandered the wealth. Albertans are understandably outraged that we’re going to look at program cuts and, possibly, tax increases.”