Saskatchewan budget still in balance but surplus continues to shrink

REGINA – The Saskatchewan government’s budget is still in the black, but its cushion continues to shrink.

A second-quarter fiscal update released Wednesday forecasts the government’s program surplus at $22.8 million — down from $64.8 million when the budget was released earlier this year.

Decreases in provincial sales tax revenue and money from Crown land sales are being blamed for the drop. Spending is also up by $8 million because of higher demand for disaster assistance and programs for the disabled.

Increases in revenue from oil and corporate income tax helped cushion the blow. A record crop is also forecast to bump up the province’s economic growth rate by a full percentage point to 3.6 per cent in 2013.

“The budget remains balanced thanks to our strong, diverse economy and prudent expense management,” said Finance Minister Ken Krawetz.

When Crown corporations and other government agencies are included in the financial picture, the government says it is on track to run a $467-million surplus — up more than $300 million from the budget forecast.

That surge comes from higher returns in the not-for-profit insurance organizations in the province’s portfolio, most significantly from the Workers’ Compensation Board and Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp.

The report notes that spending increases have been limited to the Government Relations and Social Services ministries. Other departments are expected to either meet or come in below budget for 2013-14. It’s hoped that will result in savings and debt-servicing cost reductions of more than $75 million.

Trent Wotherspoon, the Opposition NDP finance critic, said the province’s efforts to save money within ministries isn’t necessarily a good thing when there are problems in emergency rooms and with seniors care.

“The minister might be able to write this off as some sort of a lean exercise, but lean is also supposed to mean better results,” Wotherspoon said. “We don’t see that in health care and education across Saskatchewan.”

(CJME, The Canadian Press)