Updated with full story at 6:07 p.m.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will release a scaled back version of the provincial budget on Wednesday because the province can’t rely on its revenue projections for the next fiscal year.
Harpauer will still release spending plans for the upcoming year in education, social services, public protection and capital spending. The budget will also include a “significant increase” in health funding, particularly for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which funds doctors, nurses and other health professionals. However, Harpauer said the COVID-19 outbreak has caused too much uncertainty to do anything else.
“Given the rapidly changing situation, accurate revenue forecasts are not possible right now,” she said in a media release. “However, we need to move forward with the government’s spending plan for the upcoming year, so we are taking the unusual step of tabling spending estimates without the revenue forecasts. Once the situation becomes more stable, we will release a financial update, including revenue forecasts.”
The lack of stability means there’s no way to guarantee the province can balance the budget, but premier Scott Moe said that’s not a huge concern. On Tuesday, Moe promised to deliver whatever resources were necessary to help residents recover from the Coronavirus outbreak, even if that means running a deficit.
“Right now what we are focused on is providing that investment certainty for our partners and ensuring that the people of this province understand that where the resources are needed we will provide it,” Moe told reporters during a media scrum in Regina. “I cannot commit that it is going to be balanced until we see the revenue lines come in a little bit later this year.”
Moe added that they plan to wait for the federal government’s own Coronavirus economic recovery package before making too many commitments. However, he did promise “record investment in infrastructure,” and pledged to spend whatever was necessary to help the province recover. He anticipates having an actual formal budget in place by next fall at the latest.
“The full intent is to bring this together at some point this summer, this fall, whenever we can, “ Moe said. “(It’s) to bring this to a head and then have an actual budget to operate on, at least for part of the year. I think it’s important to do that, to go through the process that we do each and every budget year.”
Provincial NDP Ryan Meili criticized the government’s decision to go ahead with what he called an outdated budget based on outdated projections. Meili said the budget should be postponed in favour of working on a provincial support plan, and called on the provincial government to rethink their current direction.
“The government’s planning to introduce a budget tomorrow. That budget was designed with economic forecasts that were out of date as of the beginning of March,” he said in a video address posted on Facebook. “The numbers in that budget, both in terms of revenue and what our spending priorities need to be, are completely out of date. At this point, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. It’s time for us to set that aside and start focusing on the realities of today.”
Meili said most families are struggling with additional costs and lost income opportunities. He urged the provincial government to immediately introduce a financial aid package that provides cash directly to low-income residents before the end of the month. He also called on an “immediate injection” of resources into Saskatchewan’s healthcare system to track COVID-19 and provide improved patient care.