Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alberta Budget 2008 - Reaction

Nation, I'll react as we go. For contrast's sake, my reactions will be in red (an otherwise meaningless colour in Albertan politics).

... and awaaaaaaaaaaaaay we go!


First thoughts... resource revenue going DOWN over the next few years, to the tune of $1.7B per year by 2011? That's going to be interesting, in light of all the talk about getting "our fair share" of resource revenues.

The "Total Expense" category is a bit troubling, as it shows continued increases in budgeted spending - albeit smaller increases than in previous years. Granted, we certainly need the roads, hospitals, schools etc. that this spending will bring, as we're playing "catch up" for the previous administration - but if nothing else the razor-thin projected surpluses should hammer home the need for finding more streamlined ways to deliver programs and eliminate waste. At least spending is projected to increase by less than the rate of inflation... so, that's SOMEthing for the fiscal hawks.

Let me preface this by saying, I understand the need to be conservative when projecting the cost of oil and natural gas... to budget a price of $110 for a barrel of crude is dangerous accounting when making spending promises and cutting cheques... that said, though, who the hell is the genius who thinks that the price of oil and natural gas is going to go DOWN in the next few years? More people are using it, and the quantities aren't exactly getting bigger - it's a NON-RENEWABLE category of resource. Supply and demand, kids - this stuff is going UP in price, not down.

To budget conservatively is one thing, but if anyone in the finance department truly believes that crude is going to drop by almost 40% in the next 3 years (or even by $6), they've got to take off their Maple Leafs hats and give their heads a shake.


Budget summary by Ministry


Aboriginal Relations

Aboriginal Relations’ 2008-09 program expense will be $117 million, an increase of almost $22 million or 22.6 per cent, over the 2007-08 forecast.

Funding provided through the First Nations Development Fund will increase from $56 million in 2007-08 to $78 million in 2008-09. This funding will be used to support the economic, social and community development of First Nation communities.

Hopefully, with some oversight...

Budget 2008 includes $18 million over three years to implement initiatives which will contribute to more effective governance, enhanced accountability and long term sustainability for the Métis Settlements.

Hard as hell to do I know, but what about the Métis and First Nations people who live off-reserve? It seems backwards that one of the only ways to get assistance is to quit your minimum-wage job in the city and move back to the reserve...

Advanced Education and Technology

Advanced Education and Technology’s 2008-09 program expense will be $3.4 billion, an increase of $178 million, or 5.5 per cent, over the 2007-08 forecast.

Program expense in 2008-09 includes $2.6 billion in operating support, an increase of $240 million or 10.2 per cent from the 2007-08 forecast, and $835 million in capital grants to post-secondary institutions.

Just a quick note: it doesn't matter how much you give in capital grants to the universities and colleges to build fancy new libraries, gyms and residences: if only the rich can afford tuition, nobody's going to USE the new buildings.

In 2008-09, support for adult learning, including operating grants to post-secondary institutions, is increasing by a net total of $221 million, or 12.1 per cent, to over $2 billion. By 2010-11, this funding will increase by $563 million, or 30.8 per cent, to nearly $2.4 billion.

THAT'S what I'm talking about... University boards? Ball's in your court, now...

In 2008-09, total funding for student assistance and student debt is $188 million to further government's commitment to addressing accessibility and ensuring that Alberta is one of the most affordable provinces in Canada to obtain a post-secondary education.

The elimination of outstanding student debt is good, but where's the retroactivity? There are people still carrying $10,000 debt loads from 15 years ago that they can't get out from under, with the cost of living so high. Where's their relief?

The 2008-11 Capital Plan provides almost $1.5 billion to support post-secondary capital projects.

Over the next three years, a total of almost $498 million will be provided for innovation, research, and technology commercialization initiatives which will focus on areas of strategic importance for Alberta. This includes $229 million for research and innovation initiatives in priority areas, $169 million for technology commercialization, and a $100 million contribution to the Alberta Enterprise Corporation.

Alberta continues to be a world leader in the development of new technologies, medicines and the like due in large part to this kind of spending. These don't just benefit mankind in a general way, but Alberta in particular - great minds are drawn to places that help great minds to flourish. Good to see it continued.

Agriculture and Rural Development

Agriculture and Rural Development program expense will return to just over $1 billion in 2008-09 and each of the next three years, a 2008-09 increase of $146 million (16.9 per cent) over the 2007-08 forecast. The increase reflects a return to normal levels of spending and activity in Agriculture Financial Services Corporation's insurance and financial support programs after a particularly stable and prosperous 2007 growing season.

... and (as a descendant of farmers, with relatives still in the business) thank heaven for that.

The 2008-09 budget supports a wide variety of programs and services to enable growth of a globally competitive and sustainable agriculture industry. Support includes transitioning to the new Growing Forward agreement, which includes the redesigned AgriStability, AgriInsurance, AgriRecovery and AgriInvest programs to provide effective production and risk management tools. Alberta continues to work with the federal government and other provinces on Growing Forward to develop a package of programs for Alberta farmers and the agriculture and agri-food sector.

Much of the Ministry’s focus on Growing Forward will be aligning its objectives, programs and supports with Alberta’s strategies and development plans for economic, environmental and resource sustainability. The new institute for Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment will be an important focus for Agriculture and Rural Development. Chaired by former MLA Dr. Ken Nicol, the institute will identify and facilitate the adoption of environmentally sound practices and products in the agriculture and forestry sectors.

Good politics, and Nicol's a good man for the job. If he thinks he's going to be telling Morton what to do on the Forestry file, though, he's got another thing coming.

Children and Youth Services

Children and Youth Services’ 2008-09 program expense will be $1.1 billion, a $120 million or 12.2 per cent increase from the comparable 2007-08 forecast. By 2010-11, total program expense will be $1.16 billion a $180 million or 18.4 per cent increase over three years.

Funding for child care will be $197 million in 2008-09, and $633 million over three years. This includes $242 million over three years to support the creation of 14,000 new child care spaces by 2011. This also includes $10 million in new funding in 2008-09 to implement a provincial Out-of-School Care program for children 6-12 years old. As well, the Ministry will expand provincial subsidies for low and middle-income families to include children up to age 12. A capital grant of $2 million has been earmarked to increase child care spaces in Fort McMurray.

$242 Million to create 14,000 spaces in the private system, and $10 Million to create an entirely new system for 6-12 year olds? I suspect that might cost a bit more than the budgeted $10 Million. Good to see Fort Mac getting some attention - if you think costs are out of control in Calgary or Edmonton, you don't know Mac.

Child Intervention and Foster Care Support funding will increase by $20.5 million, or 4 per cent to $536 million. The Ministry will continue to address demand pressures, inflation, and the declining availability of foster homes. This funding will also allow for continued implementation of the new Casework Practice Model, which focuses on assessment, collaboration, permanency for children and continuing to work positively with First Nations and Métis communities.

Funding for the Family Support for Children with Disabilities program will be $107 million in 2008-09, to address increased demand and build rural capacity. This program provides support to families so children with disabilities have an opportunity to develop to their potential.

Funding for Family and Community Support Services, a cost-sharing partnership between the provincial government, municipalities and Métis Settlements, will increase by $3.5 million to approximately $75 million to support locally-driven preventive social services and programs.

The Ministry will continue to co-ordinate the 10-year cross-ministry strategy aimed at decreasing the impact of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a leading cause of birth defects and lifelong disabilities. Expected outcomes of the strategy include improved diagnosis and assessment capacity and better co-ordination of services. Funding in the Ministry of Child and

Youth Services will rise to $18 million, an 89 per cent increase. Participating ministries will allocate an additional $4.5 million towards this initiative in 2008-09.

Surely giving every bartender and liquor store clerk in the province a baseball bat to whack expectant mothers upside the head when ordering alcohol can't be THAT expensive? It's 2008, people, let's catch up to the science: Smoking or drinking when you're pregnant HURTS THE BABY. More than "the stress of quitting" (still waiting for an M.D. to sign off on the tired old "my doctor said that quitting would hurt the baby more than staying off the wagon" excuse). The sooner we as a society stop tolerating the reckless endangerment of these kids in the name of the mother's "freedom of choice", the sooner those millions can be spent somewhere else.

As a participant in the Crime Reduction and Safe Communities initiative, the Ministry has allocated $2.8 million in 2008-09 for Aboriginal and ethno-cultural family violence prevention programming, expansion of mentoring opportunities as part of the Youth in Transition program and programs to aid parents/families of at-risk children through Parent Link Centers.

Social services agencies contracted by Children and Youth Services will receive an additional $11 million in 2008-09 to respond to staff recruitment and retention challenges.

Every bit counts - when a trained therapist can make more in retail than in their field, we as a society might gain a great Banana Republic clerk, but we lose a lot more.

Culture and Community Spirit

Culture and Community Spirit 2008-09 program expense will be $553 million, a $98 million or 21.4 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast.

The Ministry’s operating expense is $281 million, a $42 million or 17 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. 2008-09 operating spending increases include:
- $20 million for the initial year of the Community Spirit Donation Program, designed to encourage more individual donations to non-profit organizations and registered Alberta charities;
- $12 million, primarily in funding for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, to implement the government’s new cultural policy – “The Spirit of Alberta”;
- $7 million for the Horse Racing and Breeding Renewal program, and
Ouch... knew it was coming, but ouch. The opposition (as it is) will enjoy asking about this while tabling petitions from the homeless...
- $3 million for bingo associations.

The Ministry’s capital expense in 2008-09 is $272 million, a $56 million or 26 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. Capital spending includes:
$40 million to support a bid to locate the National Portrait Gallery in Alberta;
For $40 million, you can finance half of a major motion picture about the NPG being in Alberta...
$40 million to support expansion of the TELUS World of Science facility in Calgary;
$140 million for the final year of the Major Community Facilities Program, which helps construct, maintain, and upgrade community facilities across Alberta;
We still need rinks like nobody's business... it's not just a community issue, it contributes to healthy living.
$38.5 million for the ongoing Community Facility Enhancement Program;
$6 million for capital grants to Major Fairs and Exhibitions; and
$5.9 million for capital maintenance and renewal at various historic sites and museums.

Education

For the 2008-09 fiscal year, program spending on the Early Childhood Services to Grade 12 education system, including support for school capital projects, will be over $5.8 billion.

This includes $5.2 billion in operating support to school boards and other educational programs and services, a $217 million or 4.3 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. Within this budget:
- Operational grants to school boards will increase by 4.53 per cent in September 2008.
Will this cover the increase in staffing costs under the new CBAs?
- Plant operations and maintenance support for school facilities will be $436 million, an increase of $19 million or 4.7 per cent.
In Calgary alone, 2 high schools have either caught fire due to ancient wiring or had to cancel classes with leaking roofs - this item is going to be an issue going forward.
- The budget for the Small Class Size Initiative will be $212 million, an increase of 9 per cent. This will ensure that students continue to benefit from small class sizes and maintain student access to the 2,707 new teachers hired across the province under this successful initiative.
- $77 million is provided for the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement, and
- $47 million for Student Health Services.

Over $1.6 billion in capital support will be provided over the next three years, including $624 million in 2008‑09. This will provide:
- $1.1 billion for new schools and upgrading projects, and
- $511 million for capital maintenance and renewal.

Employment and Immigration

Employment and Immigration’s 2008-09 program expense will be $920 million, a $77 million or 9.1 per-cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast.

Alberta’s Immigration Strategy continues to be implemented as part of Alberta’s Comprehensive Labour Strategy: Building and Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce. Funding for immigration will increase by $15 million, or 24 per cent, to $80 million in 2008-09. This will support expanding the number of nominees under the Provincial Nominee Program to 3,000 in 2008-09 and to 5,000 in 2010-11, improving international marketing and credentials recognition, enhancing settlement services and adding spaces to the English as an Additional Language and Bridging programs.

Credentials Recognition and EAL programs are linked by market reality: While many Albertans would gladly go to an India-trained physician who speaks impeccable English, many more would avoid going to such a doctor if they spoke heavily-accented and imperfect English (not to mention that in that job particularly, understanding your client is of paramount importance).

Over $149 million in 2008-09, and nearly $450 million over three years will be provided for employment and training programs. This spending includes initiatives under a new Canada-Alberta Labour Market Agreement, expected to be signed shortly. Under the Agreement, the federal government will provide the Province with $315 million over six years, beginning in 2008-09, which will complement and add to the current Labour Market Development Agreement for Employment Insurance clients. The new agreement is intended to support those who do not qualify for funding under the Employment Insurance program and to encourage employers to provide more training for workers.

Funding for Income Supports will increase to $307 million in 2008-09 to provide benefits to clients who are considered not able to work, temporarily unable to work, and learners. As well, $96 million in health benefits will be provided for income support clients and low-income Albertans.

Energy

Energy’s 2008-09 program expense will be $403 million, a $91-million or 29.2 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. By 2010-11, total program expense will be $448 million, a $137 million or 44.1 per cent increase over three years.

Funding increases in 2008-09 include the following:
- Energy Resources Conservation Board - increases by $29 million, or 18.7 per cent, to $184 million in 2008-09. This funding will be used to promote regulatory compliance and address pressures related to the development of new and unconventional energy resources, including the oil sands.
- Alberta Utilities Commission – funding doubles to $32 million in 2008-09, funded entirely by industry levy. This funding will be used to promote regulatory compliance of natural gas, water and electric utilities and to increase the level of consumer protection.
- New Royalty Framework - $6 million in new funding will be directed towards implementation of Alberta’s New Royalty Framework in 2008-09. This funding will be used for new information technology requirements, and development of new procedures for determining and collecting royalties. Funding for implementation of the Framework increases to $10 million in 2009-10 and $15 million in 2010-11.
To create a $15 Million program out of thin air to collect Royalties, they'd darned sure better do it, or the voters will NOT be pleased.

Environment

Excluding a one-time payment made in 2007-08, Environment’s 2008-09 program expense will more than double this year, from $183 million in 2007-08 to $403 million in 2008-09 (a $220 million or 120 per cent increase) Over the next three years, program spending for the Ministry of Environment will exceed $1 billion.
A clear commitment to "Greening Our Growth", a major plank in the PC platform during the election. The trick is going to be in producing measurable, appreciable results for that money.
The Ministry’s budget includes $155 million in 2008-09 (totaling $328 million over the next three years) for initiatives through the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund. This spending will support strategic projects or transformative technology aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the province.

Environment’s program expense also includes $52 million per year associated with the federal government’s Canada Eco-Trust for Clean Air and Climate Change and $30 million per year to support initiatives under the province’s updated Climate Change Strategy.

Initiatives supporting implementation of the Water for Life strategy continue in Budget 2008, with $300 million in capital and $63 million in operating funding provided over the next three years. This includes $16 million over the next three years in new funding to further the province’s knowledge and management of groundwater to sustain reliable, good quality supplies for communities, our ecosystems and our economy.
Watershed protection is going to be HUGE going forward - and this is going to include some of the recreationalists' prime playgrounds along the Eastern Slopes.

Executive Council

Executive Council’s 2008-09 budget is $30 million, a $6.4 million or 27.1 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. The increase provides for the new Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy and a new initiative to strengthen the Alberta brand at home, across Canada and abroad.

Strengthening the Alberta brand is going to fall to the Ministry of Truth, under Tom Olsen. Not sure what they've got up their sleeve, but I'm sure the LeftySphere will be all over it. :)

Finance and Enterprise

Finance’s 2008-09 program expense will be more than one billion, a $137 million or 15.8 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. By 2010-11, total program expense will be $1.1 billion, a $224 million or 25.9 per cent increase over three years.

Major increases in the Ministry’s 2008-09 budget include:
- $43 million for costs associated with the agreement for the government to take-over responsibility for the teachers’ $2.2 billion pre-1992 unfunded pension liability and the teachers’ annual liability payments.
- $18 million for the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (ACFA) for anticipated increases in loan activity of local authorities.
As in, they'll be borrowing money hand-over-fist funding P3's to get their infrastructure caught up?
- $15 million related to new federal funding under the Community Development Trust. Finance and Enterprise’s share of this funding ($79 million over three years) will be used for investments aimed at strengthening communities reliant on Alberta’s agriculture and forestry sectors, and for research and innovation investments aimed at developing new and value-added opportunities.
- $7 million for the Alberta Securities Commission for improved investor awareness programs and improved electronic security. These costs will be fully recovered from the investment industry.
- $7 million for the Alberta Pensions Administration to cover costs related to the growth in pension plan memberships. These costs are fully recovered from the various pension plan clients.

Other Ministry operating expense increases include the department’s share of the start-up costs for the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).

Health and Wellness

Health and Wellness’ 2008-09 program expense budget will be over $13.2 billion, a $1.1 billion or 9.1 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. By 2010-11, total program expense will be $14.3 billion, a $2.2 billion or 17.8 per cent increase over three years.
Once again - this is a critical file, and it's good to see it getting the spending priority it deserves. But Ron Liepert is going to have to go into the Health Regions with a chainsaw and start cutting the dead weight out of the system. With the amount we're spending, it's simply preposterous that wait times are what they are. For this kind of cash, we should have a system to rival Sweden's.
Operating grants to health authorities will increase by 8 per cent in 2008-09, to over $7.1 billion, with all health authorities receiving a minimum increase of 6 per cent. The health authorities are facing increased pressures from population growth and aging, and drug, technology and labour costs.

In 2008-09, $2.5 billion is budgeted for physician services. Negotiations are underway for a new financial agreement between the government, the Alberta Medical Association and the regional health authorities. Support is also increasing for innovative service-delivery initiatives, such as alternative payment mechanisms.
Ummm... "alternative payment mechanisms"? This is going to HAVE to be explained in more detail, before Brian Mason has an anuerism...
$749 million is being provided for supplementary health benefits, an increase of 2.7 per cent, largely due to higher costs of drug benefits.

$1.4 billion is being provided for a variety of other health services ranging from public health laboratories, vaccination programs and tissue and blood services, to air ambulance and allied health services. Notable 2008-09 increases are:
- $29 million will be spent on health initiatives to address the recommendations in the Crime Reduction and Safe Communities Task Force Report, including more mental health and residential treatment beds.

$31 million in new funding to improve wait times for cancer radiation therapy, as part of the agreement with the federal government.
- $311 million in areas such as blood services, payments to medical residents, base funding for the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, and a provision for workforce issues.

The 2008-11 Capital Plan provides $3.3 billion over the next three years:
- $2.63 billion for health facilities, (this includes $33 million budgeted in the Infrastructure Ministry to construct additional government-owned addiction treatment facilities);
- $343 million for capital maintenance and renewal;
- $244 million for health information systems; and
- $120 million for vaccines.
Good to see investment in infrastructure. The South Calgary Hospital will finally open soon... as someone looking to start a family in South Calgary soon(ish), this is very good news. Especially considering my fiancee's propensity for tripping over things. However, this will not mean Calgary's needs are met - it will just mean they're closer to being met. There is still a ways to go, in communities all across Alberta - this is a good first step, however.

Housing and Urban Affairs

Housing and Urban Affairs’ 2008-09 program expense will be $574 million, an increase of $66 million or 13 per cent from the 2007-08 forecast.

Over the next three years, $877 million will be provided in affordable housing capital grants, as the government moves toward the goal of developing more than 11,000 affordable housing units over five years.
Five years from now we won't NEED 11,000 affordable units - we'll need double that. We need units, and we need them yesterday.
The Ministry budget for 2008-09 includes approximately $309 million for affordable housing capital grants, $44 million for the Homeless and Eviction Prevention Fund, and $58 million for the Rent Supplement Program.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure’s 2008-09 program expense, excluding funding for natural gas rebates, will be $638 million, a $104 million or 19.5 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. The Ministry’s capital investment budget will be almost $470 million in 2008-09, an increase of $292 million or approximately 164 per cent over the 2007-08 Forecast.

Portions of the Capital Investment will help fund some major projects including:
- First phase of construction on the new Edmonton Remand Centre,
- Phase two of construction at the Calgary Courts Centre (parkade)

Funding for natural gas rebates in 2008-09 is budgeted at $325.3 million, a $13.8 million or 4.1 per cent decrease from the 2007-08 Forecast.
Let's hear it for global warming! :)

International and Intergovernmental Relations

The Ministry’s 2008-09 program expense will be $29.2 million, a $1.2 million or 4.4 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. The Ministry will provide increased support to investment and immigrant attraction initiatives in concert with other ministries through its international offices and other program resources.
Hey, here's a good way to get immigrants to move to Alberta - how about you find a way to muzzle ignorant animals like the Aryan Guard?

Justice

Justice’s 2008-09 program expense will be $522.6 million, a $134.5 million or 34.7 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast.

In response to the Crime Reduction and Safe Communities task force report Keeping Communities Safe, Justice’s budget increases $108 million in 2008-09, including initiatives to provide Crown Prosecutor input at bail hearings, measures to allow for the seizure of illegally obtained property, and development of a model for mental health courts. A portion of the funding in Justice has not yet been allocated to specific initiatives. A Safe Communities Secretariat has been established in Justice to finalize the government’s response to the report and oversee implementation of the various initiatives. Overall, $468 million in operating and $33 million in capital investment will be provided over the next three years in response to the report.
This shouldn't be as hard as some people are making it... more cops, tougher sentences on the one hand, and outreach programs to help the poor and addicted on the other. Of course, it's easier typed than done... but when your budget sees a 35% increase, people want concrete results.
Other budget increases in the Ministry include $8.5 million to increase availability of legal aid, and other increases for various other programs, including steps to improve regularity of payments and to offer administrative recalculation of eligible Child Support payments in the Maintenance Enforcement Program

Municipal Affairs

The Ministry’s 2008-09 program expense will be $691 million, a $171 million or 32.9 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. The 2007-08 forecast of $520 million includes $49 million for flood disaster assistance. By 2010-11, total program expense will be almost $1.6 billion, reflecting the government commitment to provide $1.4 billion under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative in 2010-11.
Also known as the "there's only one taxpayer, and his city taxes shouldn't go up double digits every year to keep basic services running while the provincial government records surpluses of $6 Billion PLUS". This is one of the bigger differences between the Klein and Stelmach regimes - Klein practiced the politics of "the province has money, so we're doing all right", while Stelmach - whose origins, like Klein's, are at the municpal level - clearly feels that "the province has money, but the cities are broke, so we need to be doing better".
Significant increases in 2008-09 include:
- $200 million for the Municipal Sustainability Initiative;
- $5 million for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency; and
- $3 million to support operations of the new Capital Region Board, which will begin developing a plan focusing on key infrastructure issues for the capital region.

Seniors and Community Supports

Seniors and Community Supports’ 2008-09 program expense will be over $1.9 billion, a $172 million or 9.9 per cent increase over the 2007-08 forecast.

Funding for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program is increasing by $64 million, or 10.7 per cent, to $666 million in 2008-09. This additional funding will provide for the increase in the monthly living allowance to $1,088 effective January 1, 2008 and for anticipated growth in caseload and costs per case.
An improvement worthy of praise. However: $1,088 per month won't even cover RENT in Calgary, forget about a transit pass and food.
Support to the Persons with Developmental Disabilities Boards will be $571 million in 2008-09, an increase of $30 million, or 5.6 per cent. This will support agency staff retention pressures and caseload growth.

Funding for seniors programs including the Alberta Seniors Benefit, dental and optical assistance, lodge assistance, special needs assistance, and school property tax assistance will total over $438 million in 2008-09, an increase of $46 million or 11.6 per cent. The Alberta Aids to Daily Living program budget is $98 million in 2008-09.

Funding for the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative will be almost $78 million in 2008-09, and for Rural Affordable Supportive Living funding will be $2 million. Combined, these two programs will enable the construction of 800 additional units.

The Lodge Renovations and Repairs budget is $16 million which will provide assistance to renovate and repair approximately 300 units.

Service Alberta

Service Alberta’s 2008-09 program expense will be $295 million, a $6.7 million or 2.3 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. By 2010-11, total program expense will be $303.3 million, a $15 million or 5.2 per cent increase over three years.

The increase is tied to the rising costs associated with providing continuous services within a prosperous economy experiencing high demands for infrastructure and a growing population.
Makes sense - I don't envy the folks at Service Alberta. When that phone call comes through, it could be about anything from a dead pet on the road to a forest fire to information about a hiking trail - and they HAVE to know where to send the caller.

Solicitor General and Public Security

The Ministry’s 2008-09 program expense will be $582.8 million, a $64.5 million or 12.4 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. Included in the Ministry 2008-09 budget is $16 million in new funding in response to the Crime Reduction and Safe Communities report. By 2010-11, total program expense will be $620.4 million, a $102.1 million or 19.7 per cent increase over three years.

Major increases in 2008-09 include:
- $28.7 million, or 11.9 per cent, for policing programs. This includes $8.5 million from the federal government under the new Police Officer Recruitment Fund.
Not enough, but a start.
- $17.7 million, or 9.8 per cent, for Correctional Services. This increase allows for the hiring of 30 additional probation officers, more Correctional Peace Officers, and enhanced staff training.
- $12.2 million, or 24.7 per cent, for the Sheriffs Branch. This will provide for 65 new sheriffs, including 30 for court and perimeter security, 21 for traffic safety and 14 for the implementation of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods program.
Alberta's highways are a safety nightmare - especially on long week-ends. We need more for traffic sheriffs. 21 is, again, a good start.
- $5.9 million in other program areas, including $4 million for victims of crime programs.

Sustainable Resource Development

Sustainable Resource Development’s 2008-09 program expense will be $374.5 million, a $121 million or 24 per cent reduction from the 2007-08 forecast, mainly due to the $192 million in disaster-related funding provided in 2007-08 for fighting wildfires and mountain pine beetles. The Ministry’s 2008‑09 program expense includes $50 million to be provided from the Sustainability Fund to address the mountain pine beetle infestation.
For more on the very involved issue of the MPB, and its effects, check out Ken Chapman's archive.
Implementation of a new Land-use Framework is expected to begin in 2008-09, with $7 million in 2008-09 and a total of $42 million provided over three years. The framework will address competing uses of land and provide a sustainable approach that balances economic, environmental and social concerns. $4.2 million annually will also be provided to continue an initiative with government, industry, academics and other organizations to provide independent and scientifically rigorous biodiversity information.
That would be the Integrated Land-Use Framework that we were promised at the start of the year, right?

Tourism, Parks and Recreation

The Ministry’s 2008-09 total program expense is $248 million, a $1.7 million increase from the 2007-08 forecast.

The Ministry’s operating expense is $160 million, a $16.5 million or 11.5 per cent increase from the 2007-08 forecast. 2008-09 operating spending increases include:
- $10 million for tourism marketing and development;
- $2.6 million for parks operations;
- $1.5 million to implement the High Performance Assistance Athlete Program which will supplement the assistance provided by the federal government for high performance athletes. Over three years, $4.5 million will be provided for this program, and
- $2.4 million net increase in various other programs.
Did we really have such a hard time atracting visitors last year that we have to pour $10 Million more into it? I'd rather see some of that money going into AISH or, keeping it within the ministry, building/maintaining campgrounds or even installing some firepits and supplying firewood in a few more of our provincial parks.
The Ministry’s capital expense is $88 million, a $14.8 million or 14.4 per cent decrease from the 2007-08 forecast. In 2007-08, $50 million of one-time capital grants were provided for major recreation and sport facilities in Edmonton and Calgary. Capital spending highlights in 2008-09 include:
- $50 million to support the development of the Capital Region River Valley Park, stretching from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan.
- $20 million to the Calgary Olympic Development Association for the Centre of Sport Excellence. In total, the government has committed $69 million to this initiative, with $40 million provided in 2007-08 and another $9 million to be provided in 2009-10.

The Ministry’s 2008-09 capital investment budget is $36 million. The majority of this capital investment will go towards maintaining and improving infrastructure and maintenance in Alberta’s network of 500 parks and protected areas.
There we go. While some Calgary-area parks, like Fish Creek, have seen much recent improvement as result of repairing damage from the 2005 flooding, many other parks and recreation areas are in a serious state of disrepair - parts of Kananaskis Country spring to mind.

Transportation

The Ministry’s 2008-09 program expense will be $2.2 billion, an increase of $136 million or 6.6 per cent from the 2007-08 forecast. The increase includes $60 million for highway preservation and maintenance, and nearly $47 million for the Federal Public Transit Trust. In addition, capital investment of $1.94 billion is planned for 2008-09, an increase of $450 million or 30.2 per cent from the 2007-08 forecast.
Again, a huge step towards addressing the needs left behind by the previous regime.
A portion of the additional Capital Investment will help fund some major projects including:
- Continued planning and construction of the ring roads in Edmonton and Calgary;
Oh for the love of god, just BUILD the bloody thing already - by the time Calgary's South-West ring road is complete, my great grandchildren will be driving.
- Continued development of the North-South Trade Corridor, including freeway status upgrades between Calgary and Edmonton;
- Increased rehabilitation work on highways throughout the province;
- Widening of several highways across the province, including portions of Highways 2A, 9, 28, and 54;
- Continued twinning of Highway 63 between Highway 55 and Fort McMurray;
- Ongoing expansion and preservation work on other highways that are part of the Northeast Alberta Transportation Corridor;
- Beginning construction of Highway 63 interchanges at Confederation Way and Thickwood Boulevard in Fort McMurray, and
- Construction of the new Athabasca River Bridge on Highway 63 and the Franklin Tunnel in Fort McMurray.
All of these projects are of critical importance. Prioritizing them will be a challenge, however, as trying to build them all at once will inflate the cost of labour and materials.

Treasury Board

The 2008-09 program expense for the Ministry of Treasury Board is $68.4 million, an increase of $25.9 million from the 2007-08 forecast. The 2008-09 budget includes over $15 million for capital planning, an amount made available to other ministries to support planning and preliminary design for capital projects. This funding was budgeted in the former Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation in 2007-08.

The 2008-09 program expense includes approximately $6 million for the Alternative Capital Financing office to explore alternative financing options for capital projects, including Public-Private Partnerships (P3s).
Also known as "debt".

In all, a very solid budget (with the exception of the money for horse-racing, that is). There are a lot of 2-and-3 year commitments, which I think give us a pretty good idea of the Alberta that Ed wants us to live in when next we go to the polls.

Notable, but not suprising, is the decision that maybe we CAN afford to completely forego Health Care Premiums by January 2009. A nice "thank-you note" from the PC's for their massive electoral majority, that just happens to be good policy as well. It may not help the lowest income-earners (who were already subsidized), but it will sure as heck help us middle income-earners (turns out I haven't made my first million dollars blogging yet).

There are things to criticize, and nits to be picked - I'm sure I only scratched the surface on a few issues that daveberta and CalgaryGrit will be inclined to go ballistic over - but in all, a budget that I for one can live with.

And, as members of E.S. Nation, I'm telling you all: You can live with it, too. ;)

- E.S.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

Thanks for the great overview Savage.