Praise, criticism for B.C. budget

MLAs and chamber happy with financial plan but labour unions not satisfied

B.C.’s financial plan is drawing mixed reaction.

Finance Minister Michael de Jong tabled a provincial budget Tuesday in the Legislature.

“It was brilliant and I am very proud to be part of the third consecutive balanced budget,” said Greg Kyllo, Shuswap MLA.

The budget forecasts a surplus of $879 million in 2014-15, $284 million in 2015-16, $376 million in 2016-17 and $399 million in 2017-18.

“It’s a strong, balanced budget,” said Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA.

“There are some interesting additions that will make a big difference for British Columbians.”

Among them, says Foster, is fully exempting child support payments from income assistance calculations.

Criticism is coming from B.C. unions.

“I am not sure why the government thinks giving breaks to the rich is the way to go,” said Andrew Pritchard, North Okanagan Labour Council president.

“Giving $200 million in tax revenue to the wealthy is not the way to run the government.”

However, Kyllo says that during the economic downturn, people earning more than $150,000 had their income tax hiked and the government promised that initiative would wrap up in 2015.

“They were charged an elevated premium of two per cent and it’s being reverted back.”

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce praises the budget’s focus on operating debt repayment and what it calls targeted initiatives to support economic growth.

“Chambers across the province have consistently called on government to balance its books and we are pleased to see this on-going commitment to fiscal discipline, said Jaron Chasca, president of the GVCC.

“British Columbians can take pride that we are the only jurisdictions in Canada to balance our budget and are seeing the benefit as government puts part of projected surpluses towards paying off our operating debt.”

Funding for the orchard replant program is confirmed in the budget and there’s an additional $1 million for the school fruit and vegetable nutrition program. The Buy Local initiative will receive $2 million in funding.

“Overall, for a stand-pat budget, there is much to be thankful for in the agriculture sector, and this will in turn help tree fruit growers contribute to the a healthy B.C. population and increase the economic contribution of tree fruits to the local economy,” said Fred Steele, B.C. Fruit Growers Association president.