POLITICS
04/03/2012 06:35 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Wildrose party issues challenge to opponents on surplus issue

LEDUC, Alta. - Alberta Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is challenging opponents who don't like her "Dani-dollars" petro-giveback to explain how they'll use any future budget surpluses.

"Once you start having surpluses, you have to have some kind of idea what you want to do with those surpluses," Smith said Tuesday while meeting seniors south of Edmonton.

"It's the kind of discussion we need to have."

Smith defended her promise to rebate directly to Albertans a portion of future budget surpluses.

Dubbed "Dani-dollars," the plan would see 20 per cent of windfalls returned in cheques to every man, woman and child in the province.

If oil prices remain high through 2015, that would mean an extra $300 for everyone, she predicted.

Opponents have ridiculed the idea, which is actually patterned on a $400-a-head rebate under former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein in 2005.

Premier Alison Redford noted that Wildrose is already promising to balance the budget and grow the Heritage Savings Trust Fund while not hiking taxes, not increasing oil royalties and returning money to parents for school fees, sports, and arts programs.

Redford has said she fears it will result in deep cuts to core services in education and health programs.

Smith has made it clear the Dani-dollars won't be paid out until half the surplus is dedicated to the heritage fund and that front-line services are paid for.

She said another 10 per cent of surpluses would go to municipal infrastructure. The remaining 20 per cent would be spent as directed by Albertans.

NDP Leader Brian Mason agreed with Redford, adding the Wildrose can't keep its commitment if it doesn't raise royalties on the oilsands.

"The Wildrose numbers just don't add up," Mason told a news conference in Edmonton to release his party's fiscal plan.

"You can't give away money you don't collect because your royalties are too low.

"They will have to cut services that we all need to buy votes now."

Mason said his party, if it forms government in the April 23 election, would hike taxes on the wealthy and big business and increase energy royalties to free up $3 billion in spending.

About $1 billion of that would go the heritage fund, he said, to grow it to $100 billion by 2050.

The rest would be used for other front-line programs. The NDP would cut post-secondary tuition by 10 per cent, end camping fees in provincial parks, hire more doctors and nurses, add more long-term care spaces, fund optional full-day kindergarten, and provide free dental care for children.

Mason said they would change the current 10 per cent flat tax on income to a progressive tax that would amount to 12 per cent on those earning over $200,000 and 15 per cent for those making more than $500,000.

He said it's not about punishing the wealthy, but making them pay their fair share. He said Alberta tax rates and royalties are well below comparable jurisdictions, and that a small hike can be absorbed without hurting the overall economy.

The corporate tax rate would grow by two per cent to 12 per cent.

Redford's Tories are running on their recently passed 2012-13 budget.

The plan is to run an $886-million deficit, even with a $3.7-billion cash injection from the rainy day Sustainability Fund.

The budget has record revenues and record spending, both over $40 billion, with no deep cuts, no new taxes and no tax hikes.

Redford's team has promised to re-examine all revenue streams after the election and plan to balance the budget next year.

Raj Sherman's Liberals are also planning to increases taxes on the well-to-do, starting with those earning more than $100,000 a year.

Those who make more than $200,000 would pay 17 per cent.

Corporate taxes would also be hiked by two per cent.

Much of the savings would go to education. The Liberals promise to cut tuition immediately by $250 and phase it out entirely by 2025.

On Tuesday, Sherman announced that graduating post-secondary students would get a break on their student loan debts if they stay in-province to work.

The graduates would have five per cent of their loans forgiven each year they work in Alberta up to a maximum $1,000 a year.