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Sask. finance minister delivers a balanced provincial budget

The budget presented by finance minister Donna Harpauer focuses on health care, support for vulnerable individuals, and infrastructure.
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Finance Minister Donna Harpauer delivered the 2019-20 budget to the legislative assembly this afternoon, keeping the promise of a balanced budget.

This budget is the final year in the government’s promise of a three-year balance promise, and Harpauer has brought to the table a balanced budget and a projected $34.4 million surplus for this year.

Harpauer says revenue for this year is projected at $15 billion, an increase of 5.5 percent, while expenses are estimated at $14.9 billion, an increase of 2.4 percent.

The increase and expansion of PST taxation in 2017 played a part in making this balanced budget a possibility, says Harpauer, alongside a strengthened economy, and the government promises there will be no new taxes or increased taxes this year.

Also included was $251.5 million of Municipal Revenue Sharing for rural and northern municipalities, which is a $10.5 million increase.

Health budget focusing on mental health, vulnerable individuals

The health budget will be increasing by $123 million, with a particular focus on mental health and addictions support. There will be an additional 140 beds for mental health and addictions treatment, and there is $1.1 million allotted for the hiring of more staff to provide care for youth and kids needing mental health care.

“We've got the largest ever investment in mental health and addiction, so there's over 140 new beds for mental health and addiction; there's funding to train and recruit health care professional to treat crystal meth and opioid addictions, and there's funding for 18 new mental health walk-in councilling clinics,” said Moose Jaw North MLA Warren Michelson. “So, when you're putting the funding in just to train and recruit more mental health professionals, that benefits the city of Moose Jaw and the entire province.”

The development of an organ donor registry has also been announced, estimating a cost of $558,000 with a hopeful launch of March 2020.

There is an increase of $27.7 million towards supporting at-risk families through the social services and assistance program. Investments in housing supports, community organizations, and group homes are on the table, as well as an increase of up to $500 per child for foster parents upon completing specific caregiving training.

The budget provides an increase of $6.6 million towards support for adults with intellectual disabilities, and an additional $10 million in funding for income assistance programs, service delivery and the Assured Income for Disability Program.

Safety a top priority in the province

In the wake of the Humboldt Broncos crash, there is a focus on safety and highway improvements, including funding towards addressing intersection safety across the province with the Enhanced Intersection Safety Program and over $60 million allotted for highway twinning and passing lane projects over the next 5 years,

Highway 2 north will be part of the project, with the development of passing lanes to improve safety for travelers.

“The traffic on Highway 2 north, putting in passing lanes there will increase the safety of both the people working out at K+S mine as well as all our folks going out to the lake for the weekend,” said Moose Jaw Wakamow MLA Greg Lawrence.

Additionally, funding for 128 municipal police positions in the province has been approved, to address the issue of rural crime, and training for drug impaired driving detection training for officers will be increased.

Consolidation of schools will include Moose Jaw

About $3 million is alotted to joint use and consolidation projects across the province, with Moose Jaw receiving funding for the new school project for replacement and consolidation of Sacred Heart, St. Mary's, Empire and Westmount.

“The biggest highlight for Moose Jaw Wakamow I would say, and for the city of Moose Jaw would be the new schools. So a new joint, new school has been approved with the planning, design funding in this years budget, and the project is replacement and consolidation of Sacred Heart, St. Mary's, Empire and Westmount,” said Lawrence.

“The schools were on a priority list for a number of years, but as you know, we've gone through some troubled years, and our plan three years ago was to bring it back to a balanced budget,” added Michelson.

NDP skeptical of the budget, calling it “off-balance and out of touch”

The opposition caucus accuses the proposed budget of offering nothing to the majority of Saskatchewan residents and forcing the students, families, and seniors to pay for the cuts required to maintain the balanced budget.

“Far too many people are paying far too much so this government can pat themselves on the back with false celebrations of balance,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili, in a press release from the party.

Meili noted that the increase in PST in 2017 paired with the budget announced today leaves working families, seniors, communities in the North with very little in way of support. He also noted that the continued underfunding of education is a problem that was not addressed by the government.

Local MLAs say “it’s a great budget for Saskatchewan”

“It's balanced, there's no new taxes, no increase in taxes. We're looking after the infrastructure and the needs of the people, and I think it's a great place to be right now, with Saskatchewan doing as well as it is, and we're looking forward to stronger economic growth in the future,” said Michelson.

“It’s the right balance for now in our province, and it continues moving our city ahead, especially with the new school for all our folks on South Hill,” added Lawrence.


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