8 areas to watch in B.C.'s budget

Broadly, here are several areas BIV will be exploring in the provincial government's latest budget

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James will table the BC NDP’s second full budget around 1:30 p.m. this afternoon (Tuesday, February 19).

Here are eight areas Business in Vancouver will be looking for as we pour over pages of promises and projections.

1. Balancing act

Economists are expecting a balanced operating budget from the province. The bigger question is whether government has a plan for balancing future budgets as it executes major social spending programs in what are expected to be tougher economic times.

2. Feeling taxed

It's the top issue for business leaders, who have seen new and higher taxes introduced by the provincial government. Last year brought the employer health tax, which took effect this year. Another example is B.C.'s carbon tax, which is slated to rise this spring. Businesses want tax relief, and industry says it will be looking to see if their concerns about B.C.'s tax competitiveness will be addressed.

3. Tax revenue ups and downs

This is the year of the double dip: the province will see revenue from its new employer health tax, while enjoying revenues from partially phased-out medical services plan (MSP) premiums. Meanwhile, B.C. is expecting a $400-million drop in property transfer tax (PTT) revenues over what it previously projected. What the province expects from a lucrative-but-volatile market it has tried to stabilize will be telling.

4. Cannabis cash and costs

The industry was billed as a tax boon for provincial and federal governments, though enforcement, education and management requirements come with price tags too. Last year's pre-legalization budget did not account for cannabis. This budget – tabled just four months into legalization – could shed more light on projected revenues as well as costs.

5. Child care for all?

Child care support has the potential to move more parents into a labour force that needs skills talent. B.C. has piloted its $10-a-day program. The cost of the program it lands on will depend on its scope. This is an area of focus for the BC NDP, and many analysts expect to see child care support addressed in some capacity today.

6. Transportation gridlock

The BC NDP is going back to the drawing board on a replacement project for the George Massey tunnel. The cities of Surrey and Vancouver are editing transportation plans too, with aims to swap light-rail transit (LRT) for SkyTrain track, and to run a subway out to the University of British Columbia (UBC). The Pattullo bridge replacement project is to fall under a new community benefits agreement with a unionized workforce requirement – something critics argue will increase project costs. Interim transportation relief and rising infrastructure costs will be ongoing issues in Greater Vancouver.

7. Crown corporation costs

Government recently announced its intention to write-off more than $1 billion in deferred debt at BC Hydro. It has previously written off debt at both BC Hydro and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). The budget could clarify how it intends to handle challenged crown corporations – and the costs of doing so.

8. Tone

It isn't a line item and it's harder to account for, but the tone set by government as it tables its fiscal framework for the year and years ahead is worth noting. Last year, a newer BC NDP vowed to address affordability and share B.C.'s wealth with British Columbians. Budget 2019 is the follow-up as government begins to execute on its promises, address other spending areas – such as child care – and steer the economy through good times and bad. The budget also follows issues of overspending and accountability within the legislature, and the government has so far signalled its intention to restore trust to its public institutions. 

hwoodin@biv.com
@hayleywoodin