Province looking for ideas as they try to balance books

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Albertans can have their say on the provincial budget.

On Thursday, provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced that he will be accepting ideas and comments from the public, as well as meeting with businesses, not-for-profits and other stakeholders to determine how exactly to tackle the daunting task of balancing the budget in 2018-19, without cutting important government services.

The minister will be collecting feedback on how to diversify the economy and protect programs and services.

“Albertans when they elected us, elected an approach that would be fiscally prudent but not slashing the things that they require and desire, like hospitals, roads and schools and human services,” Ceci said.

Upon forming a majority government this spring, the NDP government honoured its campaign promise to reverse several cuts to services announced by Prentice’s Conservatives, including the cap on new student funding for schools and a $75-million slash to the Alberta Primary Care Network, and instead turned its focus on large corporations by increasing income taxes and taking on a royalty review.

Earlier this month it was shown that corporations owe $1.1 billion in unpaid corporate taxes and penalties and that the government of Alberta was only successful in collecting one-fifth of that amount in the past year.

Ceci said corporations that object to the new levy are still required to pay 50 per cent of the amount regardless of whether they win their appeal with Canada Revenue Agency and that he is “pleased” with his staff’s efforts in collecting the owed money.

Without giving many other details as to how the NDP government plans to get back in the black by 2018-19, Ceci said government departments will be required to look internally first to support any further growth. Restrictions that continue to limit new hires have been in place since last fall.

Given the unusual timelines – budgets are usually set in the spring, but this year’s was never ratified due to the election that immediately followed – Ceci said he is making the pre-budget consultation process as easy and accessible as possible. He encourages Albertans to take part.

“Any time the public or a constituent makes the effort to connect with their elected representative it does make a difference. I would encourage everyone who has views on this topic to jot them down and send them to me through your MLA or directly to me,” Ceci said.

Albertans can submit their comments to the budget website, budget.alberta.ca, until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 14, or speak directly to the minister in two different telephone town halls in early September – the details of which have yet to be released.

The feedback will also be used towards putting together the next year’s budget.

Other cabinet members will also be meeting with stakeholders in the agriculture, forestry and oil and gas sectors, as well as with aboriginal leaders to gather feedback.

The provincial budget is expected to be tabled in late fall to allow the government to be “as prepared as we can with the full knowledge of what the economy is going be going forward.”

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Michelle Ferguson