Op-Ed: Budget hits hard again

The Sask Party has taken another swing at poor people in their 2018 budget.

After pre-budget hints of another PST increase and more cuts, we are all supposed to feel relieved with the arrival of the 2018-19 provincial budget. On the surface, this budget might seem nicer compared to last year, but it continues to take us down the government’s disastrous austerity path. The only small comfort is knowing that the budget would have been worse if not for the relentless advocacy and pushback from thousands of concerned citizens.

The Sask Party government claims that they got the message this time around, yet they still managed to slash funding where it especially hurts poor people. Despite decades of evidence-based research which tells us that cutting social programs results in higher costs and more problems down the road, the Sask Party government still doesn't get it.

The government boasts about the increased social services and justice budgets— which would be positive if they were raising social assistance rates and creating alternative justice programs. Instead, those budget lines are increasing to address the rise in social assistance recipients and the need for more jail guards. These are not signs of a province "on track." They are signs that governing through ideology, and not evidence, ends up costing us more.

The budget is also phasing out the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement for low income families and people with disabilities, a major blow to vulnerable residents who already find it difficult to find affordable housing. This is a heartless measure so the government can save $5 million. 

On the revenue side, it’s easy to see that not everyone is paying their fair share. In the last three years, sales tax has gone from providing 10% of all government revenues to 15% this year. The higher PST hurts lower income people the most, which is why it is called a regressive tax. On the other hand, corporate income tax will make up only 4% of government revenues this fiscal year, down from 7% of revenues three years ago. Ironically, the Crown Corporations that the Sask Party has threatened to privatize are expected to contribute double the revenues (8%) of corporate income tax.

While Finance Minister Harpauer claims the government is weaning off its dependence on non-renewable resource revenues and that this is a good thing, the Sask Party has not chosen fair and progressive taxation options. Corporations and high-income earners could be paying a greater share of revenues, instead of government punishing the poor for the shortfall.

This government is also offloading its fiscal mismanagement onto municipalities, universities, school boards and other public bodies who are still reeling from last year’s devastating cuts. This may save the province money but it means that the Saskatchewan residents will be paying more in property tax (another regressive tax), more in tuition at post-secondary institutions, and will receive fewer public services.

It’s clear that with Minister Harpauer's speech, the Sask Party was trying hard to sell us a kinder, gentler, budget. They’re billing line items as ‘increases’ when in reality they’re still falling far short of restoring funds to services that they’ve been chipping away at for years.

We’re just not buying these mental gymnastics – we can do the math and we are tired of the rich getting breaks at the expense of the poor. That’s not the Saskatchewan we know and love.

Think this budget’s not so bad? Well, not so fast. It’s Moe of the same austerity plan.