THE B.C. government delivered a 2013 budget Tuesday afternoon that relies on asset sales and increases in income tax for both corporations and the wealthy to remain balanced.
Finance Minister Mike De Jong is predicting a slim $197 million surplus for the coming fiscal year on a total budget of about $44 billion.
To get there, De Jong said the government will have to keep a lid on spending, while raising taxes more than $1 billion over the next two years. That includes a tax increase of more than two per cent on those making over $150,000 a year. General corporate income tax will go up one per cent on April 1 of this year. Medical premiums will also go up by four per cent.
The government plan also calls for $625 million from sales of surplus assets over the next two years, including 16 properties. De Jong said deals are pending in the next year.
De Jong said the government will continue to keep a tight lid on spending, with "efficiencies" expected to save more than $1 billion over the next three years.
Spending on health is expected to rise by $2.4 billion over three years.
North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Naomi Yamamoto defended the budget Tuesday, calling it "a modest, responsible budget."
"It's certainly not a classic pre-election budget," she said. Yamamoto pointed to B.C.'s relatively low taxpayer-supported debt load and good credit rating as an indication government spending is under control.
She also pointed to a report by economist Tim O'Neill as lending credibility to the government's numbers. "He confirmed our government forecasts are legitimate," she said. "We're being very, very prudent."
Not everyone agreed. North Vancouver Lonsdale NDP candidate Craig Keating said balancing the budget depends on a significant asset sale. "There's a big question mark on whether that can happen," he said.
Keating said the budget doesn't take into account the growing debt of BC Hydro. "These are huge numbers," he said.
He also criticized increases to MSP premiums and said the budget has underestimated health-care spending - one of the biggest items in the provincial budget, which is predicted to increase just 2.6 per cent.
West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan described the budget Tuesday as a "good workmanlike" plan based on "careful planning" and "no nonsense."
"There's very little pizzazz and sex appeal," he said. Among other budget highlights, tobacco taxes will go up by $2 a carton. The government also announced a one-time educational grant of $1,200 for children born after January 2007 and additional money to create childcare spaces over the next three years.