VICTORIA — Soaring forest fire costs singed British Columbia's bottom line, but the province's budget remains in the black largely due to increased tax revenues from a hot real estate market, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Tuesday.
De Jong said fire fighting costs have hit $380 million, a huge leap from the $60 million forecast for the year, but not enough to create a deficit.
"Our ability to accommodate the costs that have accrued this year, and expect to accrue through the final weeks of the fire season, are, I would say, a tribute to the health of our fiscal plan,'' said de Jong, who provided a financial report marking the first three months of the fiscal year.
B.C.'s projected surplus has dipped $7 million from last February's forecast, but the province is still on target to post a $277 million budget surplus for the year, he said.
He said revenues are up $374 million due to higher than forecast returns from income and property purchase taxes. The declining price of natural gas, coal, mineral and metal prices sliced revenues by $144 million.
"But we are still, unlike every other province, talking about a surplus,'' said de Jong.
Opposition New Democrat finance critic Carole James said the financial update shows property tax revenues are filling government coffers while job creation is pegged at a lacklustre 0.5 per cent this year.
"For an economy to rely on a hot housing market on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island is a problem,'' she said. "We need a diverse economy. We need the government to put a plan together.''
The report stated B.C.'s monthly jobless rate averaged 5.9 per cent so far this year. The 0.5 per cent job creation rate resulted in 39,600 full-time jobs, which were offset by the loss of 28,000 part-time jobs.
"We haven't achieved the levels of growth in employment that we are striving to achieve,'' said de Jong. "Everyone in government would acknowledge that.''
But he called B.C.'s economy "remarkably resilient'' while other province's fortunes are declining.
De Jong said economic growth in B.C. is projected at two per cent this year and 2.6 per cent next year. Those growth rates are likely to lead the country, he said.
The government's all-party Finance and Government Services Committee will embark on a series of public meetings over the next two months to give British Columbian's a chance to provide input into government deliberations before it tables its latest budget in February.
A Finance Ministry statement said the government is committed to balanced budgets, and "remains focused on strategic debt management to reduce borrowing costs and support B.C.'s AAA credit rating."
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