PA Chamber CEO gives vote of approval to provincial budget, but worries about long term effects of deficit spending

City of Prince Albert -- Herald file photo.

The recent provincial budget earned a vote of approval from the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, although CEO Elise Hildebrandt said they’ll still keep a close eye on changes to the education tax rate to see how it impacts local businesses.

Hildebrandt called Tuesday’s budget a positive one during a phone interview with the Daily Herald, and applauded the government for sticking with previously announced programs like the Home Renovations Tax Credit.

“It was just good to see that they were going to continue (with those programs) and not pull back, because they could have,” she said. “On the positive side, by doing it, people will do home renovations, and that does help the economy. I think that was a good move on their part.”

Hildebrandt also credited the government for keeping the Saskatchewan Technology Start-up Incentive (STSI), which provides an income tax credit for individual, corporate or venture capital corporation investments in start-up businesses developing new technology. She was also glad to see a promised reduction in the Small Business Corporate Income Tax Rate.

She said there are some concerns in the business community about the increase to the education property tax (EPT). Rates have remained unchanged since 2017, but the province is looking to raise money after announcing an 11.6 per cent increase in education funding. Hildebrandt said they’ll be monitoring it closely to see how it turns out.

Her biggest concern is the $2.6-billion projected deficit, and the government’s plan to run deficits until 2026-27. Hildebrandt acknowledged that the government had little room to cut programs or services, but worried about the impact rising debt would have on the province’s business climate.

“I’m worried definitely for our future, not only for Prince Albert, but for everybody,” she said. “At some point, we’re going to have to pay this debt back, and I know right now, most of us are of the opinion, ‘take the (funds) that they’re given to keep you going.’ My first concern is, yeah, take the (funds) that will keep you going, but then what? What happens when our tax dollars run out.”

Hildebrandt said the business community will have to learn to reinvent itself so it can live without government funding in any situation. She’s optimistic they can do that, but said they need to get started right away.

“The tech side of it, what an opportunity for Prince Albert and our people to do something different than the past,” she explained. “We depend on forestry, but what if we could start some kind of tech industry in our area?”

Hildebrandt added that she’s glad to see critical infrastructure projects like the Victoria Hospital and the Shellbrook highway twinning still going ahead. She said they’re still gathering feedback on the government’s decision to increase taxes on vaping.