EDMONTON – The Alberta government announced a surplus in its 2014 budget on Thursday, but critics say the PCs are growing Alberta’s total debt load and saddling taxpayers with interest payments.
“This is not a balanced budget, not by any stretch,” said Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.
“Just because you redefine what it means to have a surplus doesn’t mean that you’re actually in surplus.”
“We are going to have $21 billion of debt by the time we go into the next election… and when we get there, we’ll be spending about $820 million a year on interest charges.”
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Alberta government unveils balanced 2014 budget
WATCH: 2014 Alberta Budget speech highlights
No new money for LRT expansion in Alberta Budget 2014
(Above: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith speaks to Tom Vernon about the 2014 budget)
The government announced a $2.6 billion operating surplus, but will be taking on $5.1 billion in debt to finance capital projects this year.
In the 2014 budget, operational expenses increase by 3.7 per cent from last year’s budget. It’s less than population plus inflation, but higher than it was last year.
“The fact of the matter is we’ve reigned in our spending well below what we’ve had as an average over the last 10 years,” said Finance Minister Doug Horner.
Over the last 10 years, on average, the government says operating expenses increased by 7.3 per cent each year.
Click here to view all the Alberta government’s Budget 2014 documents
The official opposition says that, despite $44.4 billion in total revenue, the PCs will run a consolidated deficit in 2014, while continuing to take on debt.
“With this kind of record-breaking revenue stream, it is unconscionable that the PCs continue to plunge future generations into debt that will cripple our ability to deliver programs and services,” said Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson.
“This year, the PCs had a genuine opportunity to balance the budget and get off the debt path. Instead, they’ve doubled down on debt and are sticking our children and grandchildren with the bill.”
Horner stressed there is no borrowing for operational expenses, money is being set aside to pay off the debt, and that borrowing for capital projects makes good financial sense.
“Spending our savings, which are earning 11 per cent, when we’re borrowing at less than four per cent, doesn’t make sense.”
READ MORE: Alberta government unveils balanced 2014 budget
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation also believes the government will run a consolidated deficit.
“Premier Redford has not only broken her promise to balance the budget by this March, but she is on track to break it again and again for the next three years. Unless oil bails the government out, we can look forward to deficits well past the rest of her term,” said CTF’s Alberta director, Derek Fildebrandt.
The CTF says debt will increase by 38 per cent this year, rising from $8.5 billion to $13.4 billion. It estimates it will reach $20.9 billion by 2016-2017.
(Above: Gord Steinke sits down with Scott Hennig from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to discuss Alberta Budget 2014)
The New Democrat Party says budget 2014 is an attack on Alberta families.
“This budget completely abandons middle-class and vulnerable people,” said NDP leader Brian Mason.
“This budget is the next chapter in the tale of two Albertans. Times are good for PC insiders and corporations, while Alberta families will continue to see tough times ahead.”
The NDP says this budget looks out for wealthy people and corporations, by providing $150 million in-kind royalties to oil corporations, $8.6 million in corporate subsidies to industry in the post-secondary education budget, and a $1 million increase to Alison Redford’s office.