B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong is banking on his belief voters will value a balanced budget that includes tax hikes, increased fees, and cuts to post-secondary education rather than the typical pre-election spending spree.
"The history and the culture is for governments around election time to go out and make extravagant promises and purport to spend lots of money," de Jong told the Times Tuesday after tabling the budget.
"But one, the money isn't there. And two, I believe the majority of British Columbians want their government to behave responsibly in the same way they have to manage their families' budgets."
The Abbotsford West MLA presented a $44-billion budget that features a $197 million surplus and will see tax increases for high-income earners and corporations, higher Medical Services Plan fees, cuts to post-secondary education and the sale of Crown properties.
"I never said it would be easy but it's the responsible thing to do," said de Jong.
This budget follows four consecutive deficits by the Liberal government, which was also criticized for its last pre-election 2009 budget that saw the forecasted deficit quadruple after the Liberals gained office.
However, a review of the budget by former chief economist of the Bank of Montreal, Tim O'Neill, who was hired by the government, states the fiscal plan is largely sound, except for concerns the province's natural gas revenue projections are too optimistic and should be scaled back by $70 million dollars.
The budget included tax increases projected to create $327 million in 2013-14 that include a temporary two-year tax hike of 2.1 per cent to those earning more than $150,000 a year.
That translates to $200 more in provincial taxes for someone earning $160,000, or $3,100 more for a person earning $300,000.
De Jong stated that even with the changes B.C. would still have the lowest provincial income tax rate in the country.
"We've asked people who earn a little more to contribute a little more over the next two years," he said.
Additionally, Victoria is imposing a one per cent hike to corporate income taxes, up to 11 per cent.
Taxpayers will also see a four per cent increase on Medical Service Plan premiums, which will result in an extra $5.50 a month to a $138.50 bill for families of three or more.
To curb the costs of health care, the Liberals will limit new spending to 2.6 per cent, which will total an increase of $2.4 billion over the next three years, said de Jong. However, health spending increases have averaged four per cent over the last four years.
De Jong argued critics are misplaced if they measure the health care system by how much money is consumed.
"I prefer to measure the performance of our system on key outcomes," he said, stating B.C. leads the country based on outcomes around life expectancy, and the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and heart disease.
"We cannot continue to divert all additional funding away from all other areas to feed the voracious health care appetite," he said.
Education was an area where the province froze or cut spending.
The budget for school districts will remain static at $4.7 billion while $46 million will be cut from the post-secondary pot over the next three years.
For the past two years the University of the Fraser Valley has maintained a significant wait list to deal with the problem of too many students and not enough money.
UFV officials have said the institution doesn't have enough physical space or per-student funding to meet current demands and has been running at 105 per cent capacity the last couple of years.
Provincial funding for post-secondary schools is at an all-time high, and efficiencies can be found on the administrative level that won't impact front line services, said de Jong.
A call to Christy Clark's government from advocates for a $10-day universal daycare was not met in the budget and the present daycare subsidy will not change.
However, de Jong said young families will benefit from a $1,200 grant to Registered Education Savings Plans for children under six years old, born after Jan. 1, 2007.
The government is also implementing a childhood refundable tax credit for families with children under six worth up to $660, but not until April 2015.
Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen, who defected from the Liberal party for a short stint with the B.C. Conservatives before declaring himself an independent, raised a number of concerns with the budget.
The province is hoping to balance the books by the sale of Crown assets to generate $625 million over the next two years.
Van Dongen said it was a risky bet in a depressed property market.
"Even the government's own estimates of the property market indicate that they would be disposing of such assets in a declining market," said van Dongen in a press release.
While commending the effort to find health care efficiencies, van Dongen questioned whether Victoria could limit spending to 2.5 per cent given the aging population and increased demand for services.
"Specifically, I am concerned that the history of funding decisions by government does not adequately fund the Fraser Health Authority, considering Abbotsford's and the region's high population growth," said van Dongen.
- with files from Rob Shaw, Times Colonist