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James delivers balanced budget

Finance Minister Carole James
Finance Minister Carole James

Finance Minister Carole James tabled the provincial budget Tuesday, adding that the province is forecasting surpluses for the next three years …  $227 million in 2020-21, $179 million in 2021-22, and $374 million in 2022-23.

“From new roads, hospitals, housing, schools and child care centres to better, more affordable services in every community, we’re seeing fundamental changes that are making life better for British Columbians,” James said in a news release. “Together, we’ve made a lot of progress and we can’t turn back. Budget 2020 keeps our province moving forward by focusing on people.”

Total government revenue is forecast at $60.6 billion in 2020-21, $62.4 billion in 2021-22 and $64.2 billion in 2022-23. Total expenses over the three-year fiscal plan are forecast at $60.1 billion for 2020-21, $61.9 billion for 2021-22 and $63.5 billion in 2022-23.

B.C.’s taxpayer-supported debt is projected to be $49.2 billion at the end of fiscal year 2020-21, $53.9 in 2021-22 and $58.6 billion at the end of 2022-23. The taxpayer-supported debt-to-GDP ratio, a key metric used by credit rating agencies, is expected to remain near 17 per cent by the end of the fiscal plan period.

Budget 2020 makes new commitments to bring capital spending over three years to $22.9 billion – the highest level in B.C.’s history, she said. Work is underway on new and upgraded hospitals and health facilities, highway and transit projects, schools and new housing throughout B.C. that is stimulating more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction.

“British Columbians are working hard to build a better future for their family, and so are we. By building the infrastructure our growing province needs, we’re making life easier for people and creating good jobs and opportunities in local communities,” James said.

While the nation is gripped in a crisis arising out of blockades in support of five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposing construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, James said Budget 2020 takes a step forward toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by affirming the historic 25-year revenue-sharing agreement that will see $3 billion of gaming revenues shared with all First Nations.

Budget 2020 creates a new, needs-based BC Access Grant for students to make sure all British Columbians can tap into these opportunities, while growing B.C.’s skilled workforce. This grant will provide up to $4,000 to help with the up-front costs of tuition for more than 40,000 low- and middle-income students.

The province will support struggling forestry workers through access to job placement, skills training, equipment loans, grants for hard-hit communities and programs to support early retirement, James said. Budget 2020 adds $13 million for new forestry revitalization efforts, including revving up B.C.’s bio-economy with innovations that convert wood into value-added products like biofuels, bioplastics and textiles.

Budget 2020 commits $419 million over three years for CleanBC, on top of the approximately $900 million invested in 2019. This funding includes incentives to buy electric vehicles (EV) and build EV charging stations. Additionally, this year’s budget increases support for industries moving toward clean, low-carbon solutions and projects to make B.C.’s schools, universities, colleges and hospitals more energy efficient.

The new BC Child Opportunity Benefit, launching in October 2020, will provide 290,000 families with more money to support their kids, James said. Combined with B.C.’s Affordable Child Care Benefit and the Fee Reduction Initiative for licensed child care spaces, families with one child may save up to $20,000. Families with two children could save up to $28,000 each year.

The budget delivers an additional $339 million to strengthen B.C.’s K-12 education system – building on recent investments to upgrade schools and hire more than 4,200 new teachers.

An additional $1 billion in Budget 2020 will improve health care in British Columbia. New or upgraded hospitals are on the way for 13 communities, and 12 new urgent and primary care centres are open. Two more are coming.

Budget 2020 creates a new tax bracket for the top one per cent of income earners in British Columbia. Nearly half the revenue generated will come from individuals who make more than $1 million annually.

“Today, we’re asking the people at the top, the highest one per cent of individual income earners, to pay a little more and help B.C. provide families and communities with better services and stronger infrastructure,” James said.

To help address the growing health costs and impacts of sweetened drinks, B.C. will begin charging provincial sales tax (PST) on sweetened carbonated beverages. This is a step that has been advocated for by health professionals and an all-party committee, as young people between the ages of 14 and 18 are the top consumers of pop.

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