Hospital funding, highway twinning, and cigarette tax increase highlight 2022-23 provincial budget

The provincial government anticipates an 18.5 per cent increase in revenue next budget year, but rising expenses and COVID-related costs means the province will still run a deficit.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer presented a budget with a $463-million deficit on Wednesday. That’s based on $17.2-billion in expected revenue, and $17.6-billion in expenses.

All figures assume oil and natural gas royalties will hit $867.5-million, while potash royalties will generate $1.5-billion. The budget also assumes the U.S. exchange rate will hover at around 80.04 cents American.

“Saskatchewan is back on track,” Harpauer said, echoing pre-budget words from Premier Scott Moe. “We are seeing strong economic growth and job creation as we come out of the pandemic and as a result, the provincial financial outlook has improved significantly.”

The provincial budget relies on increased resource revenues and increased taxation returns. The biggest involves an expected increase of $12.1-million in tobacco tax revenue and an extra $10.5-million in PST revenue.

The province plans to increase the tobacco tax from 27 cents to 29 cents, while the PST to include entertainment. This means residents will have to pay provincial tax to attend concerts, fairs, sporting events, and concerts, among others.

The provincial NDP criticized the decision to expand the PST, saying it comes at a terrible time for Saskatchewan residents, who are just starting to return to entertainment districts after two years away.

“The Sask. Party is cranking up costs and nickel and diming families at a time where they desperately need and deserve some relief, (and) at a time when we should be supporting events and encouraging (residents) to come together as communities and as people,” NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said during the official response from the opposition.

Wotherspoon said the province is adding new taxes and fees at a time when it should be supporting families with more funding and programs. Harpauer said the budget includes plenty of significant investments, such as a $47.2-million increase in education funding, a $67.3-million increase for social services, and $12.5-million for 11 new ICU beds.

Hospital funding and highway twinning are the two biggest Prince Albert area budget projects. The province plans to spend $425-million on highway improvements, including three major highway twinning projects—one of which involves Hwy 3 west of Prince Albert.

On the heath side, the budget includes $2.2-million for more specialized care in the Victoria Hospital Neonatal intensive care unit.

On the COVID side of things, the province will continue plans to phase out the temporary small business tax reduction that was put in place on Oct. 1, 2020. The reduction decreased the small business tax rate from two per cent to zero. It will increase to one per cent on July 1, 2022, and increase back to two per cent on July 1, 2023.

The province also has a $50-million increase planned for film and television production. Harpauer said the increase would help an industry hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications will open for the Creative Saskatchewan Production Grant this spring.

On crime, the province plans to establish a Warrant Enforcement and Suppression Team to target high risk offenders with outstanding warrants. That will cost the province around $1.6-million.

The government will also spend $6.4-million to create a Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team, and $220,000 to expand the Internet Child Exploitation Unit. There is also $3.2-million to expand crime reduction teams.

For local reaction to the 2022-23 budget, see Saturday’s edition of the Daily Herald.

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