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B.C. budget surplus $353 million

Finance Minister Mike de Jong presents the audited public accounts at the B.C. legislature Tuesday, showing the province is back in the black as promised in the 2013 election. - Tom Fletcher/Black Press
Finance Minister Mike de Jong presents the audited public accounts at the B.C. legislature Tuesday, showing the province is back in the black as promised in the 2013 election.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher/Black Press

The B.C. government finished the fiscal year in March with a surplus of $353 million by keeping overall spending growth below one per cent, according to audited public accounts released Tuesday.

It's the first official surplus budget for B.C. since the 2008-09 recession, and a bigger surplus than what was promised by the B.C. Liberal government in last year's election campaign.

Total program spending increased only 0.4% during the year, which Finance Minister Mike de Jong credited mainly to a hiring freeze and restrictions on discretionary spending in ministries. Health care spending rose $360 million over the previous year, which was more than $500 million lower than the forecast in the government's post-election budget. Education spending was up $299 million, while spending in natural resource ministries fell $337 million.

The province stayed in the black despite taxation revenues coming in $402 million less than the budget forecast. Natural resource revenues to the province exceeded forecasts by $109 million.

NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth said the surplus budget was achieved "by picking the pockets of hard-working British Columbians" with higher fees and increases to BC Hydro, ICBC and other rates. Farnworth said the public accounts show B.C. residents are paying an extra $300 million a year in fees and licences, not counting the latest increases to BC Hydro and Medical Services Plan rates.

De Jong noted that the province's total debt continues to rise, topping $60.8 billion including debt of BC Hydro and other Crown agencies.

"We are borrowing to build instead of paying for the groceries," de Jong said of the additional debt, which includes $3.2 billion for schools, highways, transit and hospitals.

B.C.'s debt stands at 18.2% of gross domestic product, about half of the level of Ontario and the federal government's debt-to-GDP ratio.

 

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