Dermod Travis: B.C. Budget 2016 devoid of any real purpose

Petty. One word that springs to mind after last week’s B.C. budget.

At best, it’s a lip-service budget. Tweak here, tweak there, but devoid of any real purpose.

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To be sure, some were tossed a chicken wing.

But you can almost hear the minions in the backroom: “Just make sure it doesn’t cost us anything — the rubes will never catch on.”

Make-believe money for the most hurting. One minute it’s there, then poof.

After the canned budgetary spin, there’s a host of other insights worth sharing from last week’s fiscal plan.

Since 2010/11 — Premier Christy Clark’s inheritance year — total government revenue is up $7.4 billion or 18.15 per cent, nearly twice the rate of inflation.

Average weekly earnings in B.C. are up 11.4 per cent.

In the “other revenue” category — things such as tuition fees and motor-vehicle licences — the government has pencilled in $3.4 billion, an increase of $793 million over 2010/11 or $170 more per capita.

Six years ago, B.C. Hydro coughed up $591 million; in 2016/17, $692 million or $52 more per household.

In 2001, the B.C. Liberal party promised to “stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families.”

That was back when provincial revenue from the B.C. Lottery Corporation was $444 million. This year: $1.2 billion.

In the white-elephant department: the Transportation Investment Corporation continues to bleed red ink. TIC operates the Port Mann bridge, and not particularly well.

Its losses have overshot forecasts by 67 per cent and now total $442 million. They’re estimated at a further $207 million for 2017 and 2018.

TIC’s debt stands at $3.4 billion, more than the government’s original $3-billion estimate for the entire Gateway plan.

Not all departments were left to scrounge petty cash. In the political-spin department, the Communications and Public Engagement Office’s budget is up 43.3 per cent over 2010/11 to $37.9 million.

The office’s overall budget isn’t the only thing that’s gone up in the spin cycle.

In 2010/11, Gordon Campbell’s press secretary made $80,153. Last year, Clark’s took home $108,655, a difference of 35.5 per cent.

It likely wasn’t a stress-free job in Campbell’s final year, either.

The Ministry of Natural Gas Development is on track to spending $2.58 billion (2013/14 to 2018/19). Natural-gas royalties are on track to bring in $1.65 billion over the same period.

Prosperity B.C. is just around the bend.

On Jan. 1, MSP premiums rose 4.1 per cent. In the first nine months of 2015, the average hourly wage in B.C. fell five per cent.

Even with the government’s so-called premium relief, total MSP premium revenue is set to increase $124 million this year to $2.55 billion. Back in 2010/11, it brought in $1.79 billion.

B.C. might have some of Canada’s lowest tax burdens for high-income earners; not so much for the poor or middle class.

According to the budget, a single individual earning $80,000 in B.C. pays $7,828 in provincial taxes. In Alberta, they would pay $8,106, in Ontario $12,354 and in Quebec $19,911.

A two-income family of four earning $30,000 in B.C. pays $2,687. In Alberta, it would be $871, in Ontario $2,381 and in Quebec $650.

God help them if they get a $1 raise, because the full MSP hit will kick in.

As with any government that just increased the budget for its communications office, it’s expected they’ll do inter-provincial tax comparisons most favourable to their political spin. Other provinces do the same.

So let’s see how B.C. stacks up in Manitoba’s analysis.

A single parent with one child earning $30,000 would have paid $802 in provincial taxes last year in B.C. In Alberta, they would have received $329 from the government, in Ontario $31 and in Quebec $2,071.

A two-income family of five earning $75,000 would have paid $4,409 in B.C., $460 in Alberta, $3,577 in Ontario and $7,161 in Quebec.

At least British Columbians can take comfort in the knowledge that there’s $100 million sitting doing nothing in B.C.’s newfangled Prosperity Fund.

Back in 2013, when the idea was announced, Clark’s adviser, Pamela Martin, tweeted: “What would you do with a trillion dollars? A once-in-a-generation bonanza.”

Only $999.9 billion more to find out.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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