Monday, April 12, 2021
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Bell: Alberta Budget, Albertans will pay for the fiscal reckoning

Bell: Alberta Budget, Albertans will pay for the fiscal reckoning
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Prepare to pay, just not today.

We all like weather forecasts where you’re told it’s going to be sunny and warm with no storm clouds on the horizon and no chance of rain for days on end and no one ever has to look in the mirror.

Just a picture-perfect beautiful time.

Well, don’t shoot the messenger.

Today is not that time.

The province’s books are in a mess.

They were in a mess before we’d ever heard of COVID-19.

They were in a mess before Premier Jason Kenney arrived on the scene.

They were set up to be a mess by previous governments elected by Albertans, including ones who called themselves conservative but created a very expensive operation.

There was barely a whimper from much of the public as the cash went out the door.

They are a mess now, at least when measured with an Alberta yardstick, the land of the Alberta Advantage, the land where we claim we don’t like Big Government.

And, as with other government messes, you know who will likely have to do the cleaning up when the dust settles.

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Us.

Now don’t freak out. There is no sales tax in this budget. There is no health-care tax masquerading as a premium.

There is none of the stuff recommended by eggheads with cushy jobs for life in the ivory tower or high-powered suits who’ve already scored a big tax cut.

But let’s play it straight.

The can is just being kicked down the road.

We are on our own.

You see, nobody in authority has ruled out such taxes.

They just keep telling us now is not the time while the folks in Edmonton spend more than in other big provinces.

Now is not the time. They do not say never will be the time for more taxes.

You don’t hear the old-school phrase telling us they’d rather cut than tax.

Remember it? We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

The provincial government says they expect day-to-day spending, not including COVID, to go up this year by a couple of percentage points and then be flat.

They are not bending the financial curve.

Now follow the bouncing ball with me.

The government’s red ink for this year is expected to be around $18 billion. In a better case, it could be nearer to $15 billion. Then again, it could be $20 billion.

Next budget, the math says the red ink could be another $11 billion and the budget after that, another $8 billion. That’s with the economy growing.

When the Alberta government expects to get spending down to the cheque-writing of other big provinces, they will still be in a deep hole.

The Alberta legislature. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

Now the economy could really take off and more money could flow their way.

But $8 billion more? We can light candles.

Meanwhile, the province’s debt is about $115 billion this coming year and getting ever deeper with every flip of the calendar.

The amount paid out in interest on the debt is a record in the billions a year and going up.

More will be taken in income tax without the tax rates going up — and that’s a whole other story.

The government promises to tackle how much those working for the government get paid.

Albertans pay $5,470 per person on public sector salaries compared to $4,702 a person in Ontario.

Previous reports talked about the province pushing for a 3% pay cut.

Some United Conservative politicians wanted a bigger set of scissors used.

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We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Four times on Thursday afternoon Travis Toews, the Kenney government’s budget boss, is asked about taxes.

The brick wall is there for all to see.

Toews says he’s focused on the job at hand and that’s not talking about taxes.

Down the road, the experts will look at whether we should have more taxes.

Just not today.

Down the road there will be much more clarity.

Just not today.

He is asked about what those of a conservative mind will think.

He doesn’t really tackle the question.

But one thing you can take to the bank.

The smart money bets there will be a reckoning down that road. Next year, the year after, following the next election.

Then we shall see how hard the rubber hits that road.

“The time will be right to evaluate our options,” says Toews.

I was afraid he’d say that.

rbell@postmedia.com



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