Surplus decreased as B.C. wildfire, ICBC costs rise

By on December 4, 2017
Finance Minister Carole James (Black Press).

Finance Minister Carole James promises balanced budget.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James released the province’s second quarter financial update on Nov. 28, downgrading the forecast surplus for the current year and using the bulk of the government’s forecast allowance to keep the books out of the red.

The projection at the halfway point of the 2017-18 fiscal year is a surplus of $190 million, down $56 million from the first-quarter projection. The biggest jump in provincial spending was $152 million to cover costs of the summer forest fire season. Forest fire efforts also accounted for most of a jump of 267 full-time equivalent B.C. government jobs in the summer.

On the revenue side, the biggest change was a reduction of $643 million in anticipated income tax revenues. James said that was based on the federal government’s update of personal and corporate income taxes collected during 2016, down from the previous forecast.

Another revenue drop of $109 million from earlier forecasts came in commercial Crown corporation revenue. That is mostly due to a downgrade of revenues from ICBC, which continues to struggle with increased claims and legal costs.

Other revenues continued at a healthy pace in the quarter from July to September, including property transfer tax, which has been the province’s cash cow during the hot real estate market in recent years. Expected revenues from that tax for the current year were increased by $175 million.

Retail sales also continued to rise in the second quarter, resulting in an upward adjustment of $51 million.

Another bright spot was forest revenues, with the provincial revenue forecast up $55 million, due mostly to higher timber tenure stumpage rates. B.C. lumber prices are near record highs, with high demand from the U.S. despite 20 per cent countervail and anti-dumping duties imposed by the U.S. government at the Canadian border.

B.C. Liberal finance critic Shirley Bond said the strong economic growth is a result of the previous government’s policies.

“Although the NDP inherited a $2.7 billion surplus, they have already managed to dip into British Columbia’s savings and they haven’t even fulfilled most of their major campaign spending promises, including $10-a-day daycare and a $400 renter subsidy,” Bond said.

James said the NDP’s child care and housing pledges are over 10 years, and can be achieved as long as B.C. continues to have strong economic growth.

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