Alberta Premier Alison Redford
Credits: PERRY MAH/QMI AGENCY
On a tour of provincial centres in search of what taxpayers think about the budget, associate finance minister Kyle Fawcett appeared in reports to be backing away from balancing the whole $40-billion-plus budget, referring instead to balancing the operating budget, which could exclude infrastructure and other capital-intensive line items.
But Alberta's finance boss Doug Horner said Thursday at a Calgary conference that his government is committed to balancing the budget -- although he fine-tuned his definition of balanced.
"Right now our target is to have a balanced budget in 2013-14," he said. "We will show our payments and our funding to the capital plan. We will show that our operating revenue will exceed our operating expenses, and that's the commitment we've made."
Ministry press secretary Kathleen Range confirmed the whole-budget-balance concept Thursday afternoon.
"The provincial budget -- that's including funding of the capital plan as well," she said.
Speaking in Calgary, Redford said she's still good to go on her promise -- and that the finance ministry clarified that Thursday.
"We are fully committed to the commitments made in last year's budget. We did predict that this year we would have a deficit of $950 million dollars. We are committed to that," she said, adding that she's "very pleased" that the finance ministry "clarified their position on that matter."
Outrage over prospective backtracking swelled among opposition parties in the interim.
"This is like a family saying they have a balanced budget as long as you don't include their mortgage and car payments," Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson said.
"It is clear the PCs are changing their election promises in order to keep their spending habits instead of changing their spending habits in order to keep their promises."
The Wildrose pointed out that the operating budget has been "balanced" since 1994 during the early Klein years and does not include any provincial infrastructure spending, figured by the Wildrose at $5.7 billion for the current budget year.
"The premier's 'Alice in Wonderland' pre-election budget is now being shown for the fraud that it is," Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said.
Alberta Liberal finance critic Kent Hehr said his party's warnings of shaky financial ground for Redford are proving true.
"You didn't have to be the sharpest tool in the shed to have predicted this outcome," Hehr said. "It was clear before the price of oil started to drop that the PCs didn't have a credible fiscal plan. Now, the chickens are finally coming home to roost."
Sagging oil prices and subsequent first quarter predictions of a possible deficit of billions this year prompted a budget rethink, Hehr said.
The operating budget doesn't include billions of dollars for promised infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, health-care clinics, and new schools, he said.
"We've all seen dog-and-pony shows before. The PCs promise the world in order to get re-elected and then spend every dime of resource revenue that comes out of the ground just to pay the daily bills," Hehr said.