Sask. budget focuses on health, education and highways

Saskatchewan’s 2019-20 budget contains a slim $34.4 million surplus on no new taxes or tax increases and no increase to the operating debt.

Calling it “The Right Balance,” Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said the budget focuses on providing services in health, education, social services and highway safety.

“It balances much-needed investments with carefully managed spending in order to achieve a balanced budget that is affordable and sustainable, now and in the years ahead,” she said.

The agriculture budget is up three percent to $391.3 million, including $271. 8 million to fully fund business risk management programs. That’s up from $258 million last year, based on federal forecasts for program use.

Crop insurance premium funding, announced in late February, accounts for most of that at $154.9 million.

Funding for rat control has increased by $350,000 to $1.25 million and will be paid through grants to rural municipalities and First Nations.

As usual, health spending takes the lion’s share of the budget with planned spending of $5.9 billion, or 39 percent of the total.

A key focus this year is spending on mental health and addictions. More than $400 million across several ministries will be aimed at these initiatives, including funding for more than 140 new beds.

The agriculture budget is up three percent to $391.3 million, including $271. 8 million to fully fund business risk management programs. That’s up from $258 million last year, based on federal forecasts for program use. | Screencap via legassembly.sk.ca

Capital investments in health include preconstruction design of a new Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert and planning for a new Weyburn hospital. The Northland Pioneers Lodge in Meadow Lake will be replaced, completing the government’s commitment to replace 13 long-term care facilities for seniors.

Funding is also committed to children younger than six years old with autism, the Alzheimer Society First Link program, and the Connected Care program to support people staying in their homes as long as possible.

The new Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford will see investments in the correctional side of the facility with 96 beds for those who are incarcerated and have significant mental health issues.

The education budget of $3.28 billion includes $1.9 billion for school division operating funds.

Infrastructure investments in schools are mainly in larger urban centres, including joint-use replacements of a public and separate school in Regina, and two public and two separate schools in Moose Jaw.

Two ongoing school consolidations in Rosthern and Weyburn will also continue.

Education property tax rates will not change, Harpauer said.

On the roads, several intersections will be improved, including the one at Highway 35 and 335 where the Humboldt Broncos bus crash occurred in April 2018. Twinning of Highway 7 at Vanscoy will be completed. Construction of passing lanes will be done on Highway 7 west of Rosetown and Highway 2 north of Moose Jaw, along with continued construction of passing lanes and short twinned sections on Highways 6 and 39 between Regina and Estevan.

Construction of passing lanes on Highways 9 and 10 between Canora and Melville will start, while planning for more safety improvements on Highway 5 near Saskatoon will continue.

Two tax changes were made in this budget.

Beginning in tax year 2020, volunteer firefighters and medical first responders who have at least 200 hours of volunteer service in a year are able to claim a $3,000 tax credit.

The other change affects the base payment component of the potash production tax. Harpauer said deductions have eroded the tax, so they will be eliminated effective April 1.

Overall, the government expects revenues of $15.03 billion and expenses of $14.99 billion.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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