Alberta Ag budget cut; gas prices to rise

Albertans were warned to expect a big red deficit number in the April 14 provincial budget. That number is $10.4 billion in 2016-17, the largest in Alberta history.
Finance minister Joe Ceci gave the details on the deficit, revenue and financial plans in the legislature this afternoon, calling the NDP government’s first budget “the Alberta jobs plan.”
Specific to agriculture on the expense side of the budget, the government document noted “$466 million for crop, hail and livestock insurance and $129 million for agriculture income support programs; $103 million for industry development to support ongoing efforts to expand existing and open new markets for Alberta’s agricultural products, and $48 million to ensure food safety and animal health.”

The agriculture and forestry budget was cut by $36 million to $1.1 billion. Twenty-six agencies, boards and commissions are to be amalgamated, which the government calculated will save $33 million over three years.
Among those being dismantled immediately is the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, a “one-stop shop” for livestock research funding that had a budget of $25 million. That total will be cut to $17 million and is to be administered by the agriculture and forestry department.
Other agencies that will disappear include the Alberta Grains Council, Agriculture Development Committee, Alberta Farm Safety Advisory Council and the Agricultural Operation Practices Act.
The government also elaborated on its plans for a carbon tax, charged at a rate of $20 per tonne on fossil fuels as of Jan. 1, 2017, rising to $30 per tonne in 2018.
Purple gas and diesel, as well as biofuels, will be except from the carbon tax. For others at the pumps, prices will rise by 4.49 cents per litre of gas and 5.35 cents per litre of diesel in 2017. Natural gas and propane prices will also rise. Further increases in the form of tax will be applied in 2018.
The government said those increases are expected to generate $274 million this year, and more than $1 billion in each of the next two years.
Rebates on the carbon tax will be provided to Albertans with net income of less than $41,500, according to budget documents.
Ceci said infrastructure funding that was announced in October will be put to work in construction of roads, transit, schools and hospitals.
He also announced tax credits for those who invest in small and medium-sized businesses and for value-added investments in agriculture.
The Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc will get $10 million for upgrading and expansion. Another $46 million has been earmarked for irrigation rehabilitation, agricultural societies and agriculture service boards.
The Wildrose party, the official opposition, said the budget “punishes families with new carbon tax, record deficit and dangerous new debt.”
It said in a news release today that the NDP government showed no effort to reduce spending.
Wildrose shadow finance minister Derek Fildebrandt said the budget is “increasing the size of government with over $6.5 billion in irresponsible new spending, imposing in the largest tax increase in Alberta’s history and putting Alberta on the edge of a debt cliff.”

barb.glen@producer.com

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