Critics of the recent provincial Tory budget have accused the government of careless spending in relatively tight economic times.
A $3.4 billion forecast deficit is expected in 2011-2012 with an expected return to surplus conditions down the road in 2013-2014.
David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberals, said that ultimately, the government was playing games with the province’s future.
“This government acts like they’re playing with an endless supply of Monopoly money, as if setting budget priorities is a game and they can just start again when they go bankrupt,” he said. “But it’s not a game. Albertans don’t have to choose between Tory incompetence and Wildrose Alliance extremism.”
With spending pegged at $39 billion and expected revenues of $35.6 billion, the government will also be dipping into the Sustainability Fund to offset future deficits.
But the Tories pointed to a $545 million or 6% increase to Alberta Health Services as part of five-year funding commitment introduced in 2010. There is also a $257 million hike in support for school boards, and a $62 million increase to operating grants to post-secondary institutions.
Public infrastructure will get an injection of $6.6 billion in 2011-12 as part of $17.6 billion over the next three years for the Capital Plan.
“We created and built the Sustainability Fund when times were good, which has allowed us to preserve and even enhance funding to priority services like health and education, even in the depths of recession,” said Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove.
“It has also allowed us to continue building the roads, schools, and hospitals that we need today, and that we’ll continue to need as the province returns to growth.”
The three-year Capital Plan includes $5.1 billion for municipal infrastructure, $4.6 billion for roads and highways, $2.6 billion for health care facilities and equipment and $1.2 billion for schools and post-secondary facilities.
The Tories said that continuing low natural gas prices, the high exchange rate and ongoing economic uncertainty in the U.S. and abroad are expected to continue to affect revenue.
But there wasn’t a tough enough stance on cutting expenses, said the Liberals, adding they would downsize government from 24 to 17 ministries, slash government travel and communications budgets and cut spending on external consultants.
Swann also repeated his call for a long-term savings plan to replace the diminishing Sustainability Fund.
Meanwhile, Wildrose Finance critic Rob Anderson said that provincial royalty revenues are back up, “Our land lease sales are setting records, the price of oil has never been consistently higher and we’ve never been producing as much energy as we are today. There’s just no need to blow through our savings like this.”