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Alberta budget a disaster, says Starke

Last week, the NDP unveiled the provincial budget.

According to the provincial government, the budget has 4 key pillars: supporting families and communities, investing in infrastructure, diversifying our energy industry and our energy markets, and supporting Alberta businesses.

The budget is called the Alberta Jobs Plan, but was heavily focused on investment in infrastructure for the province. MLA for the Vermilion-Lloydminster constituency, Richard Starke says the budget is a disaster.

“We’re seeing a budget that makes absolutely no commitment, or no plan to get us out of a deficit situation. It’s a budget that borrows for day-to-day operations. So it’s like taking out a loan to pay off a VISA card,” says Starke.

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Starke also says that calling the budget, the “Alberta Jobs Plan” is a misnomer.

The budget shows heavy investment in infrastructure, continuing the party’s ambitious $34 billion dollar 5 year plan that began last year. However, Starke says the money is focused on bigger centres, especially Calgary and Edmonton.

One project that Starke was really looking forward to see some commitment towards is the proposed overpass for the Kitscoty corner intersection, interchanging Highway 16 and Highway 897.

“While they’ve been doing functional planning studies on it, I don’t see any money in the budget, at least at this point, to improve that. So that’s very frustrating because that remains a very dangerous intersection and one that we have been fighting for a long time to get a proper grade separation, and a proper interchange at that location.”

Some of the break down of the Capital Plan shows $9 billion set aside for municipal infrastructure support, $4.6 billion for roads and bridges, $3.5 billion for health facilities and equipment, and $3.5 billion for schools.

However, Starke also says that there are positive notes in the budget. One in particular that he liked was the cut to small business tax. The tax was lowered from 3% to 2%: an initiative that Starke says was brought forth by the Progressive Conservative caucus and was further supported by all other opposition parties.

“When all 4 opposition parties all are saying to the government, ‘this would be something you could do to help stimulate the economy that would not cost a lot of money,’ I give them credit,” says Starke.

The tax reduction will be implemented January 1st, 2017. And the province is a providing $250 million package of support, including $25 million in new funding for innovation, growth, and employment in areas like clean tech; $35 million to attract and support new businesses; and $25 million for new apprenticeship and training opportunities.

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As well, Starke indicates several projects already planned will continue though they are not explicitly outlined in the 2016 budget. One is the expansion of Pioneer Lodge, which was advocated for very intently, and the Minister re-approved the project.

According to Starke, the new E.H. Walter School in Paradise Valley is underway, having been started when the PCs were in government, and is going to get finished, in addition to the Vermilion Valley Lodge, also started when the PCs were in government.

Unfortunately, 2 projects for Lakeland College were unfunded as indicated by the new budget: the Animal Health Technology Clinic and the college’s Dairy Barn, both considered Advanced Education expenses.

“With regards to Lakeland College, the projects that were identified: the new animal care centre as well as the work that needs to be done at the trades building… These are both very acutely needed. I mean, there’s a concern about the accreditation of the animal health program at Lakeland College, without the needed changes to the building that they’re teaching that program in right now. If we can’t find a way to fund that building expansion or the significant rebuild on the building, then Lakeland’s at very really risk of losing that program,” says Starke.

The budget also seeks to support families by offering a child benefit and other financial help for families. $147 million in the next year will go towards providing Alberta’s vulnerable families with up to $2,750 per year. The Enhanced Family Employment Tax Credit will be a $25 million boost to allow more families to receive the credit. These programs will support 380,000 children in 199,000 families across the province, according to the NDP.

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