Wednesday, 13 March 2013 13:34

Cuts everywhere in Alta. budget; borrowing for capital expenses

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With the provincial budget unveiled March 7, school divisions including Prairie Rose will have more difficulty offering programs. Above is Prairie Rose’s popular Kaleidoscope which showcases the division’s student population’s art at the Esplanade. With the provincial budget unveiled March 7, school divisions including Prairie Rose will have more difficulty offering programs. Above is Prairie Rose’s popular Kaleidoscope which showcases the division’s student population’s art at the Esplanade. File photo

Almost everyone took a hit in Alberta’s provincial budget released March 7, from farmers to non-profit groups and school boards to health.

The Province will spend $38.6 billion to operate in 2013-14 and revenues are estimated to be $37.5 billion, leaving an operational deficit of about $451 million.
A legislated savings plan has been introduced. Starting this year a portion of non-renewable resource revenue will be taken off the top of total revenue and set aside into savings.
About $15 billion will be invested into infrastructure projects over the next three years, including $5.2 billion in 2013-14. The Province will borrow $4.3 billion to do so.
About $691 million will sit in the Contingency Account (former the Sustainability Fund) while the Heritage Savings Trust Fund is estimated to sit at $15.1 billion this fiscal year.
“This budget carves out a new path to lead us to where we need to be 20 years from now,” stated Finance Minister Doug Horner, in the Legislature when the budget was introduced.
“Our premier has been clear there will be no new taxes, no tax increases and no sales tax, period,” added Horner.
He pointed out over the past 10 years the government has increased its operational spending by 7.3 per cent each year. This year there is a zero increase in operational spending “because it’s the right thing to do ... we’re holding the line on spending and living within our means.”
The Tories’ budget is guided by the Fiscal Management Act. It requires an operational plan, savings plan and capital plan.
Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding will be maintained at $900 million. Reductions will be seen in employment training and income supports as well as the elimination of the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) which cost about $7 million.
The health budget at $17.1 billion increased about $500 million. Alberta Health Services (AHS) will receive $10.5 billion in base operating funding for front-line health services and $393 million for operating costs of new health facilities. A PharmaCare program will be introduced Jan. 1, 2014, to help the 20 per cent of Albertans who have no drug coverage and a new Seniors Property Tax Deferral Program will be implemented.
Post-secondary institutions will see a $147-million decrease in funding, while base instruction funding for students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 stays the same at 2012-13 levels. While inclusion funding and small-class size initiative funding has been increased, Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) funding has been eliminated. School boards have also been asked to cut 10 per cent off their operating costs.
Officials with Prairie Rose School Division are disappointed AISI funding, in place the past 13 years, has been eliminated.
“We have taken full advantage of the opportunities that a small amount of funding has afforded a small rural remote school division. The intent of AISI to allow responsible risk taking and ignite innovation has resulted in a more creative, collaborative and pioneering spirit in Prairie Rose, the same qualities that the government is looking for in the budget just released and in its transformation agenda,” says Brian Andjelic, deputy superintendent.
“The opportunities for teachers to find the time and strategies to improve engaging opportunities for their students, such as the cross-jurisdiction lesson-writing projects, will be reduced as a result of this difficult and unfortunate decision.”
PRSD officials are anticipating it will take a number of weeks to really analyze the impact of the provincial budget.
“Although only a few details are available, it is already quite clear that the budgeting process will be a challenge for Prairie Rose School Division No. 8 this spring,” added Andjelic.
Government is maintaining funding for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Community Initiative (CIP) and Community Facility Enhancement (CFEP) grants but has eliminated the Community Spirit Grant program.
Mike Christie, executive director of the Community Foundation of Southeast Alberta, says this loss of the Community Spirit Grant likely will affect hundreds of non-profit organizations in southeast Alberta. When it was introduced the grant was meant to encourage Albertans to donate to non-profit organizations. Those donations could then be used by non-profits to receive matching provincial dollars up to $25,000 in one year or $50,000 over three years.
Christie predicts those organizations in rural areas, including Medicine Hat, will be much harder hit than those in the cities of Edmonton or Calgary who have greater access to a larger pool of corporations and businesses.
“These programs (CIP ad CFEP) have already seen some reductions (in previous years), so they are being maintained at lower levels,” he points out.

Read 7190 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 14:20
Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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