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Monday, April 21, 2008

Alberta Budget Not Likely To Introduce Big Changes - But Next Year Will Be Different.

It is Budget Day in Alberta tomorrow. I do not have any inside information but have some thoughts and speculations.

I do not anticipate any significant changes from the draft budget that was done and ready to go before the election was called. Since the Budget speech is so soon after the Cabinet and Committee structures were announced there is not a lot of time to rehash the original positions.

There will be budget increases for some departments to cover inflation costs and some growth pressures and recent AUPE wage and benefits negotiations. There is no indication that there will be the big bucks needed to resolve the staffing shortages in areas like community based nor-for profit agencies in the disabilities services sector, children’s services, women’s shelters and long term care.

For the record and full disclosure I am working on this issue with the Alberta Council of Disability Services. We are talking about $200M to get these people paid at the 50 percientile level of government workers doing equivalent work. This will not happen overnight but the Premier is aware of the problem.

I expect there will be lots of budget focus on capital expenditures as the province continues to fix up the as-built maintenance deficiency and new facilities to respond to growth pressures...schools, hospitals and roads.

There is a recognized need to build new structures and retrofit existing buildings to a more eco-friendly standard. That will add costs in the short term but pay off in reduced operating and environmental costs long term. That is a hopeful sign that a new full cost accounting approach for capital expenditure will become the norm.

There is a lot to do in refocusing the fiscal framework for Alberta but my guess is most of it will be deferred for the next budget. That process will likely start by this Thursday and be about more savings and more spending both operational and capital accounts. There ias one thing for sure...Iris Evans is going to be busy – very, very busy this spring and summer.