02/05/2018 12:36 EST | Updated 02/06/2018 03:01 EST

New Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announces April 10 as new date for budget

REGINA — Saskatchewan's first budget under new Premier Scott Moe is to be tabled April 10 in what some political observers have suggested will be his first big test.

Moe announced the date — which is two weeks later than planned — while making his first public speech as premier at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention on Monday.

The new premier told delegates the government will review the grants-in-lieu program that was cut in last year's budget.

Before the grants were cut last spring, the government gave cities money instead of paying property taxes on provincial buildings or infrastructure. Urban municipalities argued they would be short about $36 million as a result.

"As we move forward, it's incumbent on us and municipalities ... to get back to the table over the course of the next number of months, and year or two, to ensure that we can come up with the same type of stable, predictable funding formula for our municipalities, so they can meet their needs into the future," Moe told the convention.

But he urged municipalities to keep looking for efficiencies to save money because times are still tough across the province.

"We've worked very hard at the provincial level to ensure that we are making the very best and most ... financially responsible decisions ... but also continuing to try to provide the services that people expect of their provincial government.

"My ask is that other levels of government ensure that they have the very same discussions."

Moe was sworn in last week after winning the Saskatchewan Party leadership Jan. 27 to replace the retiring Brad Wall.

The budget will need to keep the fiscal conservatives in the party happy, but also assuage voters who were angry after last spring's austerity budget, which was intended to help tackle a $1.3-billion deficit from the year before.

The deficit was due in large part to low resource prices and the Sask. Party made a number of moves to try to recoup some of the shortfall. It increased and expanded the provincial sales tax to six per cent from five and shut down the Crown-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Co.

The government also slashed funding to libraries, community-based organizations and to funeral services for people on social assistance, although it eventually backtracked on those plans after a poll in May suggested the party had dropped steeply in voter support.

A financial update presented in November projected the deficit going in the right direction — down to $679 million. But the update also indicated that the province had drained its $300-million contingency fund and was expecting to bring in $53 million less than it had anticipated from taxes and non-renewable resources.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said at the time that the budget was still on track because of increases in other revenue sources, such as a fuel tax, and a strong economic outlook.

(CJME, The Canadian Press)