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BC Liberals promise balanced budget short on goodies today

VICTORIA (NEWS1130) – The BC Liberals say the balanced budget they’ll deliver this afternoon won’t have any pre-election goodies in it for voters.

Jordan Bateman with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it’s a smart move for Finance Minister Mike de Jong to balance the budget instead of making big promises to voters heading into the May election.

“Strong spending restraints, realistic revenue numbers — those are the two most important things. But the number one goal of this government has got to be to balance the budget; we’ve lived in the red for too long,” says Bateman.

Still, he’s bringing his calculator to the Legislature to make sure De Jong’s math adds up.

“If there’s anything out of line — if all of a sudden, spending growth is cut in half or [with] revenue, something spikes in a way that seems unrealistic, you can bet we’ll catch it,” he promises.

Political science professor Hamish Telford says voters have the right to be skeptical when a government rolls out a budget before an election.

“Budgets… are really exercises in making assumptions. I think people are going to be looking very closely at the assumptions the finance minister made,” he explains.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong

“I think people are going to be very suspicious. And even if the government does offer goodies or trinkets, I think people will say, ‘Well, we’ll believe it when we see it,'” adds Telford.

For his part, De Jong says he’s had to work hard to make sure the province is out of the red, but that hasn’t left much money to woo voters with expensive programs and tax cuts, so we shouldn’t expect any. The province has brought in the former chief economist from the Bank of Montreal to double-check the numbers.

Back in July, BC’s Auditor General questioned the province’s math, saying the deficit was about half a billion dollars bigger than the government was letting on because of the way it calculated royalty credits earned by natural gas producers.

The finance minister of the day insisted the accounting principles he used were sound.

News1130’s Jesse Johnston is in Victoria for today’s budget. You can follow him on Twitter @Jesse_Johnston.

What does the small business community want to see in today’s budget?

The business community in BC’s fastest-growing city hopes the government won’t increase the corporate tax rate, especially with the PST coming back in April. Surrey Board of Trade Chair Anita Huberman warns the consequences wouldn’t be pretty.

“It would be pain,” she tells us. “For the smaller, micro-business, it would put them in jeopardy, depending on what industry they’re in, but… we’re still in a soft economy.”

Huberman also points out one-third of Surrey’s population is under the age of 19, and she’d like more support for youth and post-secondary education.

She would also like to see a review of the carbon tax. “For many industries, it is a drain. Is it being run efficiently? The lack of information around the carbon tax… you know, we feel a review needs to be had.”

Premier Christy Clark will likely take plenty of questions from board members at a special budget recap breakfast this Thursday.

BC’s children’s watchdog’s concerns about today’s budget

Some critics feel the quest for a balanced budget will mean slapping a band aid on some of the most pressing issues facing the province.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, BC’s representative for children and youth, would like to see more money for child and youth mental health and proper residential supports for vulnerable kids.

The children’s watchdog worries what will happen if those priorities once again take a back seat to the bottom line.

“The idea that you can do more with less doesn’t cut it, and so, somebody pays the price and the squeeze is on some of these most vulnerable citizens in British Columbia and it’s a real concern,” she says.

She worries that squeeze will also mean more children living with unsuitable caregivers.

“You know, When we have good times, we’ll help the vulnerable; when we don’t have good times, you’re going to be living in group homes and basement apartments with unsuitable caregivers. And so, I’m hoping that the budget is going to demonstrate some type of relief, because it’s long overdue and needed.”

She adds the challenge is finding new money for essential public services, not just diverting money from other programs.