B.C.’s Liberal government delivered a balanced budget Tuesday that raises revenues by increasing medical premiums by four per cent and corporate income taxes by one per cent, while selling off $625 million in public assets.
“Everyone has to take a bit of the load,” Powell River - Sunshine Coast Liberal candidate Patrick Muncaster said Wednesday, Feb. 20. “Overall we’ve gone through a course correction that’s going in the right direction.”
But incumbent NDP MLA Nicholas Simons said the Liberals have only widened their credibility gap with B.C. voters.
“Now there’s a credibility canyon between what the government says and what the people believe,” Simons said Wednesday from Victoria.
Muncaster said the government had to make difficult choices, rather than take the easy way out by running up public debt.
“I think most people recognize you cut the coat to fit the cloth. You have to live within your means. I’m a strong believer in balanced budgets,” he said.
Simons acknowledged the Liberals “will take the good ideas that we have,” such as raising corporate income taxes, “but ultimately we have to be honest that it’s not really a balanced budget, when you look at what they do to achieve it,” he added.
“They practise trickery, and the public is tired of it.”
An example, he said, is the planned sale of surplus assets — vacant lots, a former school in Surrey and a parking lot near the legislature.
“In and of itself, it’s not a bad thing, but when you’re counting on specific revenue to balance the books and you don’t have it — that’s the credibility issue,” Simons said.
Muncaster said the asset sale simply makes sense.
“You have to look at your assets on a regular basis to see if you’re getting the best return for the public on an investment that’s sitting there. People expect the government to manage their assets,” he said.
The budget also imposes a temporary, two-year increase of 2.1 per cent on personal income taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000. Like the four-per cent hike in Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums, the increase goes into effect next January.
Among new spending, the budget includes a tax credit for parents of children under six, worth up to $660 a year when it takes effect in April 2015, and a one-time post-secondary grant that will deposit $1,200 into registered education savings programs for children when they turn six.
New funding for childcare and early childhood services was also announced.
“It’s really critical to keep in mind the young and what we can do 10 to 15 years ahead,” Muncaster said.
As community living critic, Simons said the Liberals are reducing per-client funding significantly over the next three years. The budget increases community living spending by 1.1 per cent, “when they know the demand is going up five per cent,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of government to recognize that and not pretend it’s not going to happen.”
The provincial election is set for May 14.