COMMENTARY – No surprises, no sunshine

by Jeff Burgar

Well kids, the money forecast is clouds, rain, and more rain.
Mom and Dad still have their jobs, but the renter in the basement has moved out.
That means all the extra cash he paid us is gone.
It bought toys, holidays, nights out, treats at the drive-in and more. All those things are going to be few and far between now.

That’s one way of looking at Alberta’s new “household budget,” brought down last week. Things were all sunny and rosy when oil was $100 per barrel.
So fine, nobody worried at all about government spending.
Conservatives, Wild Rosers, Liberals and NDP, all were in favour of better health care, shorter wait times, better highways, more wages and pensions for civil servants – the list just went on and on.

Was there anything left to save in any of the rainy day funds?

Oh well.

So today, life goes on, just not as happily as before.
That’s pretty much the new provincial budget. A tweak here. A tweak there. No new sin taxes on smokes or booze.
While governments managers see their wages frozen, general wage spending for government employees won’t see cuts and, due to long-term contracts, there will even be raises.

Maybe one of these days one of our elected governments will finally add in a “sky is falling” clause to keep costs under control.

When times are good, nobody wants to make waves talking doom and gloom. When times are bad, not all of us hurt.
It has to be said though, stable salaries in one part of the economy actually do help smooth ups and downs for everybody else.

It’s just so aggravating, so very very aggravating, when everybody isn’t sharing the pain.

Overall operating expense increases are supposed to continue to decline. These go up and up, just in various degrees of “up.”
The increase in 2102, under the Conservatives, was 6.5 per cent. Last year, it was 2.8 per cent. This year is supposed to be 2.0 per cent. And so on.

The big news of course is money coming into government bank accounts. Money from oil and gas is down from the peak in 2014. Then it was $8.9 billion. Last year it was $2.4 billion. This coming year $1.4 billion.

Overall, the whole Alberta economy will send $8 billion less to government than in 2014.

In overall terms, our government expects between 15 and 20 per cent less income than two years ago.
That is about what many businesses across the province are seeing. Depending on location and business category, some are worse, much worse, and some not so bad.

So, the renter is gone. Just keep the hatches battened. Someday, one will return and the sun will shine again.

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