There’s very little in the Saskatchewan Party government’s 2021-22 budget for you not to like.
Your kids, however, may grow to hate it.
That’s the big problem — what’s popular today but maybe far less popular in hindsight.
A big part of Finance Minster Donna Harpauer’s 2021-22 budget theme of "Protect Build Grow” theme is kick-starting a Saskatchewan economy clobbered by COVID-19.
There was $3.1 billion doled out for capital spending— tax dollars to be happily spent on highways and new schools and hospitals in places like Weyburn.
The budget will continue to bolster success in agriculture with a $387 million more, including extra cash to get the Lake Dienfenbaker Irrigation Project going. Meanwhile, farmers will maintain their sales tax exemptions on seed, fertilizer and chemicals.
And while restructuring of municipal grants means urban homeowners across the province will be hit with an average $18 a year property tax hike, it won’t apply to agricultural land.
Similarly, those in oil — rural Saskatchewan’s other big industry that obviously had a much tougher year — will continue to benefit from what remains a favourable royalty structure and will now support for cleaning up abandoned wells.
The Sask. Party government’s budget placed the well clean up policy in its $4.8-million “COVID-19 support” package that also somehow includes it’s SGI auto refund rebate program.
One of the emerging themes in this “Protect Build Grow” budget was ensuring Saskatchewan maintained the lowest bundle of utility costs in the country. Again, this something that will be very popular among voters, but it’s also something former Sask. Party leader Brad Wall, in opposition, said was visionless and did little to grow the province when the former Lorne Calvert NDP government promoted this notion.
Admittedly, one of the budget themes that will likely be successful for Harpauer and the Sask. Party government is the notion of “protecting” and preserving what we have in Saskatchewan.
It’s the long-held notion of the Sask. Party that key to this province’s success is preserving the fundamentals, which would obviously include farming, oil and mining. It’s also these core components of our economy in which Premier Scott Moe offered much of his post-budget optimism.
Yes, these things are key to Saskatchewan’s future.
But so will adapting to change. So will preparing our future so we aren’t leaving a burden with our kids.
It’s here where the budget was less successful.
On adapting, it was hard not to notice that there wasn’t enough dedicated to current problems.
For example, while the budget should get credit for smaller things like harm reduction response teams in Estevan, $750,000 for buses in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert and $440,000 to naloxone harm-reduction kits, it seems to have missed the bigger picture of the massive overdose crisis we are seeing in all parts of the province and the value in things like safe inject sites when it comes to saving lives.
Budgets are always about adopting to a changing world. Whether we like the carbon tax or not, we do need to better adjust to new sources of energy that aren’t fossil fuels.
Handing back people rebates on consumption of electricity largely produced by coal seems unhelpful. So is pinching new electric cars for $150 a year for highway upkeep when we all know the damage to highways is caused by large trucks.
But, mostly, the problem is that $2.6-billion deficit and record $17 billion in spending that will pump debt to $27.8 billion this year and $31 billion next year.
In the meantime, we will have to shell out $755 million just to serve past deficits that have become borrowing debt.
That’s less money in the here and now. But what’s more worrisome is this budget may spell a problem for our kids’ futures.