So the Stelmach government has really differentiated itself for the Klein days with this budget. It has strong evidence of immediate responses to well known and identified problems and towards some serious planning. The feedback Stelmach, Oberg and Hancock received during the PC leadership campaign has had an obvious impact on this Budget. The entire set of Budget documents are on line and I encourage you to read them
It is about the past, the present and the future. It has lots of catch up spending with almost a 40% increase in infrastructure funding for the infrastructure deficit and to respond to growth. It also adds 10% to current operational spending to deal with a 5% cost increase due to growth and inflation. It also sets up some longer term planning, a line by line departmental review looking at program efficiency and effectiveness and imposes some in-year discipline, something sadly missing in the Klein years.
The long-view is evident throughout the document including a commitment to find solutions to the various unfunded pension liabilities including the teacher’s pension plan which is one of the most unfair fiscal situations we have in Alberta. Some tinkering has been done in the interim but a major decision to take on the entire unfunded liability has to be taken. It will result in massive savings in the long term if the bullet is bitten now.
New and interesting items are a tax increase on tobacco. The 17% tax hit is the first salvo in a major assault on tobacco use in the province. This is the lowest hanging fruit towards better control health care spending and better health outcomes for Albertans. It is part of the new emphasis on wellness that Hancock will be pushing through the policy making process this session.
Another positive start is the embedding of about an 18% increase in the disability sector. This puts about $11.3B in the base for staffing recruitment and retention. Not enough but a start. Alberta spends some $530B on persons with disabilities these days and this program area will no doubt be seriously scrutinized for efficiency and effectiveness in the up coming Treasury Board review. As well the governance system is open to question too. The recent disbanding of the provincial board that represent the government in this area signals a further review in the regional governance system too.
A new day is dawning with this Budget. Dr. Oberg at a breakfast this morning noted this Budget was very much a Caucus document and involved direct input from MLAs because it was reviewed and designed by the various policy committees. That is more indication of a better sense of good governance changes coming from the Premier’s office.
Oberg noted this morning the next Budgets planning starts today and is already scheduled to be released February 14, 2008. That will be the election budget and we shall see how it differs from yesterday’s very positive document.