Seasoned veterans at this point, Alberta’s NDP is prepared to release the 2018 budget at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Far from a balanced document, the government went through a lot of red ink writing this budget, with deficits expected to hit $9 billion this year.
This will be the last full budget cycle before the next general election, set for the spring of 2019.
University of Calgary Professor of Economics at the School of Public Policy Ron Kneebone is looking for something pretty simple.
“Provide Albertans and credit rating agencies with a clear and credible plan for getting back to a reasonable budget balance,” he said.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci has said that balance isn’t expected to happen until 2023.
The NDP is still dealing with the bad cards it was dealt when it was elected, but Kneebone said that’s no excuse.
“The government has been pretty slow, in my opinion, at getting their spending under control,” he said.
Politicians often talk in extremes with one side arguing cuts will bring the whole house down and the other insisting slashing spending wouldn’t have any effect.
“There is a reasonable course to slow down the rate of spending,” said Kneebone. “You don’t have to dramatically cut things and that would do a lot to get back to budget balance.”
In the past, revenue projections were tied to oil and gas royalties and this budget is expected to be tied to the completion of the TransMountain pipeline.
“I thought we were trying to get off the energy roller coaster,” quipped Kneebone who said we should assume approved projects will go ahead but he added the province shouldn’t be relying on that revenue to fund schools and healthcare.
Speaking about healthcare, he warned it’s going to bankrupt the province unless big changes are made.
“Since 1995, the amount that we spend on healthcare after adjusting for inflation and after adjusting for population growth, the government spends twice as much as they did 20 years ago,” said Kneebone, while also arguing that hasn’t led to improved care.
He believes government needs to get away from the idea that every dollar spent is a dollar well spent, applying an old formula.
“They should let spending grow only at the same rate as population and inflation,” said Kneebone. “Over the past year they’ve spent at twice that rate.”