I wanted to title this post ‘Saskatchewan Budget 2017: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, but it didn’t work out, because there’s nothing good about it.
If I had stayed with that theme, I could have gone with something like ‘Saskatchewan Budget 2017: A Little Bit Okay and OMG ARE YOU %#@& SERIOUS?!’
It’s pretty bad you guys.
First, a few words about government budgets.
The number one thing you need to know is they are basically bullshit. Seriously.
At best they are a government communications exercise; at worst they aren’t worth the paper to wipe your butt with.
I like to think the truth falls somewhere in the middle.
What is being released today is called ‘Estimates‘, because that’s what they are – a best guess.
Then, at fiscal year end, ‘Reality’ (aka Public Accounts) will be posted (with little fanfare) on the Saskatchewan government’s website, and we get to see what really went down in the spending categories.
But whatever, it’s what we get.
We also get all kinds of projections and fortune-telling about what the government thinks will happen with oil prices, potash prices… with their revenue sources in general.
Based on the fact we’re busted-ass broke because apparently they’ve had ZERO idea what was going to happen with their revenue sources for the last DECADE, forgive me for not putting a ton of stock in those either.
Finally, you should know that in addition to the budget documents, reporters are given an entire Bible of news releases, through which the government desperately tries to dangle shiny objects in an attempt to divert their attention away from the smoking bag of dung in their other hand.
So when it comes to the 2017-18 Saskatchewan budget, I’m going to keep this simple, because the aftershocks are going to ripple for weeks, and there will be lots more to write about.
Let’s start with the Little Bit Okay*:
Personal and corporate income taxes in Saskatchewan have been reduced by 0.5 per cent, effective July 2017, and will go down another 0.5 percent in July 2019.
(Edited March 23, 2017 – I had a bit here about contractors receiving an exemption on their materials. I deleted it, because even though they now receive exemptions on materials, for both renos and new construction, they have to charge PST on the total contract to the purchaser, and that’s really not that great. This one was decidedly NOT spelled out in any budget news releases or documents, by the way.)
The construction industry got a pass. They get to keep their PST exemption.
The PST is going up from 5 to 6 per cent. I’m putting this in the Little Bit Okay column because it’s a consumption tax, and because apparently there’s also going to be $34 million “enhancement to Saskatchewan’s Low-Income Tax Credit” to offset the impact of the PST hike on low income residents.
There’s a new $5 million Research and Development Tax Credit.
The 2016-2017 deficit did not go up beyond $1.3 billion. At this time last year it was projected to only be $435 million, but recently, many of us figured it would end up closer to the $1.5 billion mark.
So huzzah for exceeding my rock bottom expectations, Kevin Doherty.
The projected 2017-18 deficit is only $685 mil.
Again, they were off by 200 per cent on their deficit prediction at this time last year, but I’m choosing to be a glass half-full kind of girl today. I’m not even going to get into what they say about the 2018-19 and 2019-2020 deficit/surplus numbers though, because seriously. What is this, Harry Potter? They don’t know the future.
For fiscal year 2017-2018 the Sask government is predicting oil averages WTI $60 USD per barrel.
On one hand this seems a bit optimistic, on the other, well… nevermind, we don’t need that hand anyway.
Switching gears – the Ministry of Health is kicking in $750 000 to provide the HPV vaccine for Grade 6 boys. Grade 6 girls already get it. This is good, because science.
The Canadian National Institue for the Blind (CNIB) in Saskatchewan is getting $250000 in additional funding. Random, but okay. I’m happy for them.
Rosthern and Weyburn are each getting a new school. They’re P3 schools, but that’s not the point, okay? I’m trying to be positive here.
The government is bragging about record levels of cash for Saskatchewan’s Social Services Ministry, which is seeing a 6.9 per cent increase to its funding. In 2017-2018 Social Services is poised to spend a $1.125 billion budget, its “largest ever”.
Okay so I’m not sure record levels of welfare programming is something we should be crowing about. That said, it’s not a decrease to Social Services (not an obvious one, anyway, though as you’ll read below, apparently Social Services is moving away from the shoebox they buy for their clients’ cremains and moving to something cheaper. Maybe a pizza box from a recycling bin in a strip mall)…so I’ll put it in the win column.
Regional health authorities funding supposedly increased by 1.2 per cent, however health regions are only receiving half a year’s worth of funding, and the other half is going to the new “provincial health authority”. So, it’s kinda hard to tell if that’s an increase or not.
The Saskatchewan Cancer Agency funding is up by 2 per cent. Pretty sure cancer rates aren’t going down, so this is welcome.
Oh, and Health is injecting $12 million more into the budget to help address overcrowding and wait times in Regina and Saskatoon Emergency Rooms.
I’m not clear on whether that funding is to address it for a specific day, or what, because surely that’s not for the whole year, for both cities.
Let’s just say it’s a start.
The First Home Plan was suspended, and thank effing heaven for that. This is the one where the taxpayer was subsidizing the down payment on a home for young whippersnappers who just graduated from university.
Apparently we kicked out $8 million
for their rental homes while they moved to Calgary starter homes in 2016-17, which was at least $7.999ish million too much, so high fives for shutting that shit down.
The government is increasing the Ministry of Agriculture’s “business risk management programs” by 4 per cent, and putting more funding into strategic agriculture initiatives, agriculture research etc.
They’re adding an additional 13 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to the Ministry of Economy for regulating oil and gas activities, including more field inspectors.
So, there’s all that.
Bad WTF You’ve Got To Be F***ing Kidding Me:
But we’ll ease into it.
The cost of the remediation of “contaminated sites” in Saskatchewan has gone up from $5.3 million in 2015-16, to $14 million in 2016-17, and now $25 million 2017-18. I’m thinking this money is for the old uranium mines festering way up north, which should have been remediated decades ago.
It’s shocking, really, and I bet there’s a hell of a health horror story up there.
Saskatchewan Transport Company is toast.
I debated putting this on the Little Bit Okay list, because STC is a money pit, but I know that the people who use it really do rely on it. Plus, I’m not sure what will happen to all the little depots, which double as parcel services and economic entities in small towns, so that sucks.
Saskatchewan’s PST has been hiked by $1 billion dollars.
$1 billion dollars, equaling literally no new programming or services; it doesn’t touch the debt we racked up last year; we’re still accruing a $685 million deficit this year, and 574 government employees are losing their jobs.
So, that’s a thing that’s happening in Saskatchewan after an economic boom.
In health, “regional targeted programs and services” have been hit with cuts, taking them from $40 million in funding, to $14 million.
It’s not readily apparent which programs and services entail the entire $26 million, but at least a couple seem really petty. For example, hearing aids, and the 80 health employees who administer the hearing aid program, are getting chopped.
Pastoral care in health regions is being defunded.
Yes, that’s right, the provincial government is taking away your Grandma’s hospital access to her Last Rites, or her smudging ceremony, or scheduled access to Muslim prayer.
No word yet on whether they’re actually locking up hospital chapels too, but I suspect this has a lot more to do with the rampant cultural tension rumored to be one reaction to Saskatchewan’s increasingly diverse religious communities as they work or visit hospitals, than it does money. That’s a discussion for another day.
Speaking of dead – Social Services, with their record spending budget, is no longer paying for their clients’ funerals.
I’d love to know what exactly they think they’re cutting.
Currently, Social Services pays funeral homes a flat rate of $3850, which covers either cremation, or “the opening and closing” (think backhoe) of a grave (most municipalities have a patch at the back they provide for free), a box – whether it’s the “welfare casket”, as they’re dubbed in the death industry, or a fancy shoe box – and all of the province’s own regulatory fees.
Occasionally there’s mileage, say if someone from Prince Albert dies in a hospital in Saskatoon (unless the poor soul dies out of province, in which case they’re buried where they drop), or, to quote someone in the funeral industry, “once in a while, but it’s really rare, (Social Services) will pay for flowers”.
There’s going to be lots of spin about capital investment in highways, but the government is actually cutting operating funds for Saskatchewan highways: the budget for road safety and traffic guidance is cut by $750 000, while funding for operational services is being reduced from $24.9 to $20.9 million, and road surface preservation funds are dropping significantly from $138.9 to $110.6 million.
Got shocks? Not anymore!
Did I mention those two new schools, one each in Rosthern and Weyburn, will be P3 schools? I think I did.
Nothing like building schools we can’t afford with cash we don’t have. The children are our future, after all.
Oh, and there’s a new shiny $9 million expense line in Education for “P3 joint use schools maintenance and interest”.
Later we learn $6.6 million of that $9 million will go to “debt servicing” of those P3 schools.
I don’t even want to know what these are going to cost us in the long term.
Over in the Ministry of Environment, Landscape Stewardship is gone.
The function of Landscape Stewardship is defined in previous budgets as the department that:
“Develops policies and procedures to support Ministry engagement and legal responsibilities to consult with First Nation and Métis communities to enhance environmental management outcomes… provides direct support on Ministry initiatives regarding First Nation and Métis interests and rights.”
From the looks of things, this function – duty to consult with First Nation’s and Metis communities on environmental projects – has now been rolled into… Fish and Wildlife.
That’s not insulting at all.
There are no allocations listed for Innovation Saskatchewan, or as I like to call it: The Black Hole.
Seriously, there are millions and millions of dollars flowing into that arms-length agency, and then back out again as “grants”, undoubtedly at least in part to
the SaskParty’s donors private industry. It’s hard enough to follow the money on this one, but now they’re just giving Innovation Sask $30 million as a lump sum, with no breakdown?
On to Justice, which is fun.
Community Justice has been gutted.
Remember when you were a teenager and you got your first speeding ticket?
Yeah, your parents marched you right down to Fine Options and you signed up to spend a few days licking envelopes or folding letters to pay it off.
Not anymore. Fine Options, at least for traffic offences, will no longer be an option.
This is from page 10 of today’s Estimates release, under the specified budget bills, or amendments, that will need to be passed in conjunction with the 2017-18 budget.
Meanwhile, the taxpayer, instead of getting free labour out of your meatball teenager, will now pay for his or her stay in the slammer.
I suspect we’re going to see and hear far more in the coming weeks how the demise of Community Justice will impact non-profits and services all over the province, because there’s a lot of money from that pot that’s just… gone.
My personal favorite new expense line in the Ministry of Justice’s budget is $1.4 million for ‘Research and Evidence-Based Excellence’.
That’s not a dog-whistle at all.
I can’t wait to see alllll the Justice Excellence.
(BTW, Justice Excellence is also this summer’s next box office blockbuster, starring Gord Wyant as Captain Saskatchewan and Christine Tell as Ironman.)
I forgot to mention earlier – we’re cutting funding for reforestation from $1.9 million to $300 000.
Insect disease control funding is going down from $1.846 million to $1.246 million.
Funding for Saskatchewan’s regional parks is being cut in half.
No trees, rundown parks and disease-carrying bugs…thank god Tourism Saskatchewan’s budget didn’t take much of a hit.
Funding for universities and post-secondary has been cut by 5 percent, representing a $25 million reduction to universities (from $475 million to $450 million) and $6 million from technical institutes ($156 million to $150 million).
Saskatchewan student aid funding is taking a hit, going from $32.5 million to $26.2 million.
There was a bunch of government gobbledy-crap explaining why cutting student aid is actually awesome for students, but I didn’t read it.
The government’s also shaving $2 million off post secondary scholarships, which will drop from $14.3 million to $12.5 million in 2017-18.
Not quite sure what’s going on with these next two, but I’m guessing we’ll soon find out:
Sask Housing Corporation is losing virtually all ($11 million) of its $11.8 million in funding.
(Note – I had a bit here about the Chief Electoral Office losing a bunch of money. They did, but I’ve seen learned it was planned, so nevermind. Still, I’d rather the government let the CEO keep the money and change our political donation rules.)
Support for Provincial Heritage and Culture, and Community Sport, Culture and Rec Programming is being cut in half, to $1.3 million and $2.1 million respectively.
Remember the SaskParty’s 2016 election promise of individualized funding for kids with autism?
It’s been “deferred” to 2018-19, and a working group has been tasked with a creating a “model” for individualized funding.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that election announcement wasn’t just a cynical, shallow photo op.
Back to Grandma, who is really taking this budget on the chin – seniors’ special care home fees are going up, based on income, from base funding plus 50 percent of her income, to base plus 57.5 per cent of her income.
Your smokes are going up 50 cents a pack, and your booze isn’t getting any cheaper either.
Yeah, Education is where we enter WHAT IN THE ACTUAL F**K?! territory.
Cause we’re straight outta cash.
And the way they’re trying to
hide that fact help us understand is really, really confusing.
For starters, the Saskatchewan government is introducing Legislation that will redirect the education portion of your property taxes away from, you know, educators,into their own pocket.
A government insider tells me this bill isn’t supposed to come into effect until January 1, 2018, meaning that until then, your RM, Town, or City will continue to collect your property tax and pay it to the school board directly.
Come January 1, 2018, that tap will shut off.
In this budget, the provincial government has increased its portion of school operating funding from $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion, claiming that the extra hundred million will offset that three month (remember, funding resets at the end of every fiscal year, or in March) loss of education property tax revenue.
Once you wade through the copious piles of bullshit in their news release, you realize that what they’re saying is $1.86 billion ($1.3 billion from the government, plus the $560 million they project the school boards will collect from property tax between now December 31, 2017) only equals a 1.2 per cent overall operational cut to education.
How is $100 million supposed to cover the loss of three months, or 25 per cent, of school boards’ education property tax, and fund 21 new schools (think $4 million per school per year) opening in the fall, and still only equal a 1.2 per cent cut in funding?
Budgets are fun!
Oh, and just in case you didn’t think Kindergarten to Grade 12 education in Saskatchewan wasn’t political enough, the SaskParty sees your challenge and raises you an additional pile of interference:
Somewhere, right now, in a bunker built into a cave guarded by a white tiger, Kim Jong Un is taking notes.
“Dear Diary… today I learned I can personally control education…”
Look, people, I know we like the SaskParty – I do too.
(Remember, I had a SaskParty sign on my lawn a year ago this month.)
(Would I have one this year? Probably not. But you get my point.)
We like Brad Wall, we like the SaskParty, but please, just stop what you’re doing and repeat after me:
“This is not okay…”
“Elected politicians, even ones we like, should never, ever have absolute power over my child’s school, teacher, and/or curriculum…”
“This is not okay…”
So you’re going to hear a lot in the coming weeks and months about how the provincial government “listened” to the little people and is therefore keeping elected school boards and the province’s 28 school divisions.
And that will be spin and conjecture.
They may be keeping them, but they’re also neutering them, leaving us to foot the bill for said boards and trustees to sit around and twiddle their thumbs for the next three years, not doing what we democratically elected them to do.
In addition to all this, according to the government’s education funding news release, overall education funding, including capital and other (ie Kidsfirst) programming, is down by 6.7 per cent.
Which, of course, is balls, but it’s even more balls because I highly doubt that’s where that funding deficit is going to wind up (remember that 200 per cent increase to the overall deficit they didn’t project last year?).
Speaking of Who Needs Literacy, the province is gutting funding for northern and regional (rural) libraries, and eliminating library funding for Saskatoon and Regina.
In Saskatoon, where Mayor Charlie Clark is already throwing out terms like “fiscal crisis“, that’s a 5 per cent operating cut to the city’s libraries. Not world-ending, but not great, when combined with the other cuts to municipalities.
For example, the $409 000 funding cut that will likely shut down the Meewasin Valley Authority.
Meantime, the provincial government has expropriated, for lack of a better word, the Wascana Centre so we can all pay for it, instead of just the citizens of Regina.
I’m going to leave this topic here, but this post certainly doesn’t reflect all of the information that came out today.
If you want to read about this dumpster fire (so long, optimism!) of a budget yourself, feel free to click here and peruse all the documents at your
peril leisure. Enjoy!
For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at email@example.com
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