REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says it remains on track to become the only province to balance its budget this year.
But declining revenues from resources such as oil and potash, along with increased spending, leave the government with a razor-thin projected surplus of $8.8 million — down from $95 million forecast in last year's budget.
While the surplus is thin, Finance Minister Ken Krawetz says it's still a surplus and that's more than other jurisdictions can claim.
"You are going to see as we have started to see the projections by other provinces, we may again be the only province with a balance and a surplus," Krawetz said Friday after the release of his third-quarter fiscal update.
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The update shows the province plans to spend $190.4 million more than expected in last spring's budget. Extra costs have come in the area of flood assistance, teacher pensions and benefits, crop insurance and snow and ice removal on highways.
The bottom line on the revenue side is being stung by softening resource prices. But that is being offset by more tax revenue. Income tax revenue is forecast to be $314 million more than the budget.
"We have seen revenues decline by almost $600 million in non-renewable resources. That's pretty tough to be able to handle and probably in the past that would have meant that we would have had a deficit budget, but this year in Saskatchewan, we are seeing growth," Krawetz said.
Total revenue is forecast to be almost $11.4 billion, while expenses are pegged at $11.39 billion.
The government debt sits at slightly more than $3.8 billion. That rises to $9.2 billion when debt from Crown corporations is factored in — up $950 million from last year. The government attributes the increase to borrowing requirements by electrical company SaskPower.
BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic concurred with Krawetz's take on Saskatchewan's standing in Canada.
"The bottom line: resource revenues continue to weaken in Western Canada, but stronger income taxes have cushioned the hit in Saskatchewan," he said in a note. "The province remains alone in currently targeting a balanced budget."
The provincial Opposition, however, is not impressed. The NDP points to an increased dividend the government is taking from its provincially owned corporations, a drawdown on the province's $660-million rainy-day fund and the increase in Crown debt.
"We see a surprise raid of $120 million from our Crowns, we see a drawdown on our rainy-day funds and we see debt is in fact increasing," said finance critic Trent Wotherspoon.
"This isn't a good picture for the Saskatchewan people."
Krawetz says the new budget is to be delivered March 20.
"I can tell you that it will be a balanced budget," he said.
"It's going to be a pressure type of budget, absolutely ... We are going to have to be prudent. We are going to have to be fiscally responsible. Those discussions are under way right now."