Budget draws mixed response

Finance Minister Michael de Jong presented the government’s financial plan in the Legislature Tuesday.

While Finance Minister Michael de Jong has described his budget as boring, it’s generating diverse opinions.

De Jong presented the government’s financial plan in the Legislature Tuesday.

“There are no big surprises.” said Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA.

“It’s a budget brought in after an election that has what was said during the election.”

As part of the budget, the government is increasing the threshold for the first-time homebuyers program to $475,000 from $425,000, an exemption that can save the purchaser up to $7,500 when buying their first home.

“In our area, that will make a difference,” said Foster.

Criticism, though, is coming from the B.C. School Trustees Association because the budget maintains education funding at 2013 levels.

“We’re going to be in quite a bind if there are no new funds,” said Bill Turanski, Vernon School District chairperson.

School districts are faced with higher MSP costs and the potential of millions of dollars in costs if the government loses a court appeal on class sizes.

“If the court ruling takes effect, it’s a whole new ball game,” said Turanski of possibly having to rewrite the district budget.

Foster insists that school districts were warned the government has limited finances.

“We told everyone last May we’d balance the budget and we did,” he said, adding that there’s additional resources for students skills training.

Fred Steele, B.C. Fruit Growers Association president, was in Victoria for release of the budget.

“There wasn’t a mention of a (tree) replant program so we will continue to work on a long-term strategy and that seems to be progressing,” he said.

“They didn’t announce any major cuts to the Ministry of Agriculture so that’s a better sign than what has happened in recent years.”

The Armstrong-Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce welcomes de Jong’s announcement of a balanced budget.

“Positive news that it is, a variety of small business issues and opportunities remain veiled behind the surpluses, of which chamber continues to focus on,” said president Andrew Laird.

“For example, how to enhance exploration in resources or encouraging technology opportunities through skills training.  Both were addressed in the budget and we’re keeping tabs on the progress of these promises.”

Opposition to the budget is coming from unions.

“British Columbians are feeling the pinch of rising costs for everything from significant increases in MSP premiums to 25 per cent increases in hydro rates,” said Jim Sinclair, B.C. Federation of Labour president.

“For these British Columbians struggling to make ends meet, a budget that reaches deeper into their pockets is anything but boring.”

The budget includes an extra $2.5 billion over three years for health care. Taxes on tobacco will increase by 32 cents per pack, or $3.20 a carton April 1.