Four consecutive balanced budgets. No wonder our province is the envy of Canada.
By promoting and guiding economic growth in our province, we are able to invest $1.6 billion over the next three years into new and increased spending.
Our balanced budget, low debt-to-GDP ratio and triple-A credit rating mean we can borrow at the lowest interest rates in the country. By comparison, if B.C. was saddled with Ontario’s weaker credit rating, we would be spending an extra $2.4 billion a year to service our debt, instead going into important programs and services for British Columbians.
Some of the significant investments highlighted in Budget 2016 include new and increased services to help families and individuals with their cost of living, as well as measures to bolster and protect rural communities across the province.
Residents of the Shuswap will benefit from several initiatives aimed at rural B.C.
We are protecting communities and citizens by setting aside $85 million to establish a new organization — the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. — that will work toward wildfire prevention and mitigation through forest fuel management, reforestation and habitat restoration.
There is $10 million for the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative for Community Wildfire Protection Plans, fire-smart planning activities and fuel management projects.
There will be enhanced property tax relief for those who provide tourist accommodation in our riding.
Agriculture is an important economic driver in the Shuswap.
There is a new Farmers’ Food Donation Tax Credit that is worth 25 per cent of qualifying agricultural products donated to a registered charity providing food to those in need, or help a school meal plan.
And the new three-year, $75-million rural dividend program takes effect this year to help rural communities reinvigorate and diversify their economies.
This is a great opportunity for the people of each community in the Shuswap to work together to make your economic development goals a reality.
Budget 2016 announced changes to MSP and premium assistance effective Jan. 1, 2017 which will help lower-income families, individuals and seniors with the cost of living. The B.C. government is investing an additional $70 million annually to enhance premium assistance. About 335,000 people will see their premiums reduced, and an additional 45,000 people will no longer pay premiums at all in 2017.
As a result of enhancing premium assistance in 2017, a single senior earning up to $45,000 may qualify for reduced premiums. A senior couple earning up to $51,000 may qualify for reduced premiums. This translates into a savings of up to $480 per year for a senior couple and $324 per year for a single senior.
With this budget, we are able to provide more services and help ease the cost of living for people in the Shuswap.
I’ll have much more to say about Budget 2016 when I speak at Chamber of Commerce luncheons in Salmon Arm and Armstrong March 11 and April 1, respectively. Please contact the Chambers for further details and I hope to see you there.
Greg Kyllo is the Shuswap MLA.