NDP government tables surplus budget update

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James, left, and Premier John Horgan in the legislature before the Speech from the Throne on Sept. 8, 2017. Photo by Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

VICTORIA, B.C. — B.C. Finance Minister Carole James presented the NDP’s 2017-2018 budget update in Victoria today.

The Budget 2017 Update tabled by James forecasts a surplus of $246 million this fiscal year. James explained that this year real GDP in B.C. is forecast to grow by 2.9 percent, which is prudent compared to the outlook provided by the independent Economic Forecast Council. She said that private-sector forecasters expect B.C. to rank near the top of the provincial rankings in economic growth in 2017 and 2018.

“Less than eight weeks after forming government, we have taken the first steps to invest in the people of B.C. with this budget update,” said James. “We’ve made some immediate investments while we work toward our first full budget in February. In Budget 2017 Update, you’ll see our choices to build a better B.C. for everyone. We’re putting people first by improving the services they need and making their lives more affordable while supporting a strong, sustainable economy that provides good jobs throughout our province.”

Housing affordability ranked among the highlights of the NDP’s new budget, with several items the government says will help make life more affordable. $208 million was announced for the construction of over 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing, and another $291 million will support the construction of 2,000 modular housing units for the homeless. The Finance Minister also announced a 50 percent cut in Medical Services Plan premiums, which James said is a first step toward eliminating the premiums over the next four years.

The NDP will also be increasing funding to public schools by $681 million over three years, including $521 million for hiring up to 3,500 more teachers.

$322 million in funding was announced today to provide an immediate response to the ongoing drug overdose emergency. The funding will support prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery efforts; improved data collection and analysis;  a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions; and increased law enforcement.

When it comes to taxes, the NDP is increasing the general corporate income tax rate from 11 percent to 12 percent, while reducing the small business corporate income tax rate from 2.5 to 2 percent. The personal income tax rate on taxable income over $150,000 will be increasing from 14.7 percent to of 16.8 percent. Provincial sales tax on electricity purchases will also be eliminated.

When it comes to the carbon tax, the NDP announced that the tax will no longer be revenue-neutral, and will increase by $5 per tonne of CO2 on April 1st of next year. James said that the government will be offsetting that increase with an increase to the climate action tax credit for low- and middle-income families. She also explained that the revenue from the tax will support families and fund green initiatives.