POLITICS

B.C. to balance books, table surplus budget in fragile times:Finance Minister

02/17/2015 04:00 EST | Updated 04/18/2015 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Finance Minister Mike de Jong says the surplus in Tuesday's provincial budget gives the government some room to move on health, education and social spending, but economic times are fragile and British Columbians should not expect a spending spree.

He said B.C. will likely be the only province in Canada to table a balanced budget for this year, an accomplishment he attributes to a diversified economy and controlled spending.

"The basis for this is pretty clear," de Jong said. "You've got to control the stuff you can control. It's about choice, and it's about making tough choices."

He said the 2014-2015 budget will include a surplus higher than the $444 million forecast last fall, with forecasts of surplus budgets for the next three years.

Prince Edward Island has suggested it will table a balanced budget for the 2015-2016 budget year, while Quebec is aiming for a balanced budget in 2015-2016.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said plummeting oil prices may have recently placed his province into a deficit budget position.

De Jong said B.C.'s budget will include spending increases in social services, health, education and the removal of a two-year tax on high-income earners. He also said the budget includes measures to address the provincial debt, which is currently above $60 billion.

Two years ago, the government implemented a temporary two per cent income tax hike on people earning $150,000 or more a year to help bring the province out of deficit. De Jong said the tax earned the province about $200 million a year, and expires this year.

"We asked those making a little more to pay a little more and it was purposely designed to get us back into balance and beyond," he said. "It was purposely designed to be for two years."

Opposition New Democrat finance critic Carole James said British Columbians deserve a break, but what they are getting instead are medical, hydro, ferry and auto insurance increases.

She said the only break she sees in the budget appears to the tax cut for high-income earners.

"He's found over $200 million to give (high-income earners) a tax break," James said. "But when it comes to average British Columbians, it's nickel and dime, more costs, pay more, get less."

James said she is awaiting the details of de Jong's changes to social services in the budget.

The New Democrats, social services groups and single mothers on assistance have been demanding that the government stop deducting support payments from income and disability payments.

De Jong said he'll don an old pair of black leather shoes that were shined and repaired prior to budget day.

He held a pre-budget news conference Monday at a downtown Victoria shoe repair shop where he paid $40 to have his budget shoes polished and reheeled.