“We’re going to continue to invest heavily in infrastructure,” said Athabasca-Redwater MLA Jeff Johnson, reacting the last Thursday’s release of the province’s 2011 budget. “That’s really important for our area and for northeastern and rural Alberta in general.”
The provincial budget allocates $6.6 billion for public infrastructure, and a total of $17.6 billion over the next three years.
“Now is the right time to do it,” Johnson said of the governments desire to build. “We’re getting good value for our dollar and we’re making sure that we’re keeping Albertans working. When we’re done, we’re going to be better prepared for the future, for economic development from a healthcare/education perspective.
“We’ve seen heavy investment in our constituency in recent years, if you look at things like the Pleasant Valley Lodge, University Research Centre, twinning of Highway 63, all the regional waterlines and the new water treatment facility in Athabasca,” Johnson continued. “All those things are what we’re talking about when we talk about investment.”
Johnson explained that one of Premier Ed Stelmach’s goals was to get Alberta ‘back in the black’ with a balanced budget in the year 2012. But with revenues not being at the level the government had projected a year or two ago, due in large part to the rise in value of Canada’s currency, that it’s being pushed forward to the 2012-2013 budget.
“That’s important, but it’s not a terrible concern,” declared Johnson. “We do have money in our savings to cover the deficit. So although we’re going to run a deficit for two more years instead of one more year, we’ll be able to cover that off without taking on its debt.
“We essentially held the line on spending,” Johnson said, underlining some of the necessary increases the budget did address, such as healthcare and a ‘slight’ boost to education, including post-secondary.
“We held the budget in terms of operating expenses to what it was last year.”
The province’s 2011 financial plan includes a forecasted growth in gross domestic product of 3.3 per cent; a six-per-cent increase to Alberta Health Services; $62 million in operating grants to post-secondary institutions; and $39 million for children and youth programs.
Total expenses are expected to be $39 billion, and revenue projected at $35.6 billion, leaving a $3.4 billion deficit for the government’s fiscal year.
The province’s savings in the Sustainability Fund will be used to offset the discrepancy.
See this week’s Town & Country for more on the provincial budget.