© Guardian photo
Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, left, and David Currie, repair a pair of shoes as Sheridan prepares for today’s provincial budget.
P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan will present his provincial operating budget today, a document widely expected to be a ‘stay the course’ plan toward getting the province’s books back in the black.
Sheridan has been trying to get the province out of deficit ever since the 2008 recession caused millions in pension fund losses and triggered the need for stimulus spending.
Two years ago, he began a three-year plan to return to balance, which he had to then re-start last year due to lower than expected provincial revenues. He plans to balance the budget in 2016.
Department spending has been frozen in every department but health, with small increases in education and social services.
Last year, Sheridan projected a deficit of $34.5 million for this year.
He has faced a barrage of criticism from the Opposition Tories since the legislature reopened last week over his management of the provincial finances.
But Sheridan stands by his decisions, even though they have led to a string of deficits.
“It was very important that we provided the stimulus that we did over the past five years, this was the greatest recession since 1929, every other jurisdiction did exactly what we did, we were the first ones in,” he said. “We stand by it.”
But Opposition Leader Steven Myers pointed out these deficits have led to millions being added to the provincial debt.
P.E.I.’s net debt has ballooned to over $2 billion.
“It works out to be about $4.63 a second since these guys have been in power that they’ve whacked away in debt,” Myers said.
He is concerned there is not a plan in place to pay it down. He believes the finance minister is simply leaving it for future governments and generations to deal with.
“It was very important that we provided the stimulus that we did over the past five years, this was the greatest recession since 1929, every other jurisdiction did exactly what we did." Finance Minister Wes Sheridan
“His goal now is to balance the budget in a year’s time, which I don’t think he can do anyway, but his real goal should be trying to pay off all this debt he’s wracked up… all he wants to do is kick the can down the road,” Myers said.
Independent MLA Olive Crane took a less aggressive tone in her pre-budget comments, saying she hopes to see a new tax rebate for low-income Islanders that would see HST removed from home heating products like propane and electricity.
She said she would also like to see increases for food allowances for families on social assistance, as well as some manner of financial help for Islanders referred out-of-province for health services who cannot afford travel and accommodations costs.
She pointed to the $39 million in HST transitional funding the province received from the federal government.
“I expect them to put some revenue along with the extra tax dollars they are collecting against the deficit, but I also expect them to give some of this money back to Islanders in programs that helpIslanders,” Crane said.
“The finance minister cannot continue to raise taxes and fees without giving something back to those he continues to tax.”
The budget will be tabled in the provincial legislature Tuesday afternoon, after question period.