02/21/2012 06:39 EST | Updated 04/22/2012 05:12 EDT

2012-2013 B.C. Budget: Christy Clark Gives And Takes Back From Families

VICTORIA - B.C. families are being offered some tax breaks in their 2012-2013 budget, but qualifying for the goodies will be a lot harder than being eligible for the tax increases.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announced up to $10,000 in personal income tax credits for those buying their first, brand-new home.

Only those who have never owned a home before and one that's newly built — or a home that's been so massively renovated that only 10 per cent of the original structure remains — will qualify for the benefit.

And the credit is income-tested: Only families earning up to $150,000 in net income will be eligible for it.

"Every young person out there today understands the challenges of getting into the housing market," Falcon said in his budget speech.

"As parents and grandparents, we worry about the struggles our children and grandchildren have trying to save for their first home."

Falcon said the tax credit is aimed at helping out with that struggle, and has the added benefit of supporting the new-home construction sector, a sector hit hard by the introduction of the HST.

And families who want a cottage at the beach on the slopes — or at least one that's outside the Vancouver and Victoria areas — could be eligible for a provincial grant of up to $42,500 on recreational properties priced up to $850,000, effective April 1, 2012.

Anyone with children and sports or arts activities will now be able to claim the cost of those programs up to $500 per child, per year.

But Iglika Ivanova, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think tank, questioned the government's priorities.

She said the amount of money being plowed into tax breaks for homebuyers leaves seniors out in the cold and she was particularly irked at the tax break for recreational properties.

"If you can afford a second property of that price in the leanest economic times, you probably don't need a tax cut in the leanest of economic times," she said in an interview.

The latest budget will also require families to fork out an unexpected, new hike to their medical services premiums. The government announced four years ago that there would be increases over three years.

Falcon announced another increase for the coming year, one he said would only amount to about $5 for a family of three.

He noted the increases are an important reminder of the "extraordinary cost" of the health care system.

Falcon noted 800,000 of the most vulnerable British Columbian's don't pay the health premiums at all and those with low incomes get a subsidy.

Tobacco taxes won't be going up, but they won't be going down, either. Falcon said the 2012-2013 budget raises taxes on tobacco, but in an effort to ensure the cost of a package of cigarettes remains the same when the provincial sales tax is restored. Without the move, the cost would actually drop when the HST is killed.

And families will be paying their last increase of the carbon tax.

The minister said there will be no further increases or expansions of the carbon tax, instead, the tax will be reviewed, including its revenue neutrality.

Falcon indicated his government is taking another look at the controversial tax, noting that British Columbia was a world leader in bringing it in, but the rest of the continent hasn't caught up.

"It is still an important public policy position that we took," Falcon said.

"We had always anticipated that others would follow us down this path. . . That didn't happen."