No budget before the spring election, government tips on Q3 fiscal update


Rising resource revenues and personal income taxes have put Alberta on track to end the fiscal year with a $ 6.9 billion shortfall, $ 1.9 billion lower than expected.

The PDN government's third-quarter fiscal update released on Wednesday contains a strong indication that Albertans will not see a budget before the spring elections.

It includes an update on the government's "path to balance" until 2023-24, a feature never before included in a quarterly update.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci diverted reporters' questions about the timing of the 2019-20 budget.

"I am preparing a budget. It is the prime minister's decision when the warrant is withdrawn," he said. "But there will be a 2019 Budget."

Ceci said he directed his employees to include the update of the way to balance in the quarterly update. He rejected a suggestion that the document was political.

"I thought it was important to remind Albertans that we are on a path to balance," he said. "There was a lot of volatility in this province, so I wanted to remind Albertans that we are on this path without undermining the programs and services on which they depend."

It is expected that the election will be held within the legislated period of March 1 and May 31.

The third quarter update covers October, November and December 2018.

United Conservative Party MLAs Drew Barnes and Jason Nixon are responding to the fiscal update at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday in Edmonton. CBC News will take your comments live here.

Revenues, expenses above

The difference in the price of Western Canadian Select oil against the West Texas Intermediate Crude baseline rose to nearly $ 50 a barrel in late October, prompting Premier Rachel Notley to impose mandatory production cuts that went into effect on January 1 .

Despite this setback, the average WTI price for the entire fiscal year 2018-19 is forecast at $ 62, $ 3 more than expected in the March 2018 budget. The average spread for 2018-19 is forecast at $ 23.50 per barrel.

Revenues are $ 1.8 billion. Bitumen royalties are $ 1.6 billion higher than anticipated and the government raised $ 750 million more in personal income tax.

However, corporate income tax is still low – the government raised $ 463 million lower than expected.

The government also removed $ 500 million it had added to the budget as a protection against below-expected oil prices.

The government has borrowed $ 2.2 billion less than expected to meet its obligations under the capital plan. That means debt service costs are $ 46 million lower than expected.

The government still projects Alberta to get a surplus in 2023-24 with a net debt of $ 56.1 billion and a net debt to GDP ratio of 13%.

Marijuana was legalized by the federal government during the third quarter, so sales revenue was first reflected in a quarterly update. The government raised $ 30 million in marijuana taxes from October 17 through December 31.

Operating expenses are $ 221 million higher than expected.

Expense Highlights

Some notable expenditures included $ 30 million in advocacy to influence public opinion in favor of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.

The Justice and Prosecutor-General spent $ 34 million more than budgeted for increases in legal aid, victims of crime and the strategy to reduce rural crime.

Other spending items included money to help municipalities with the cost of legalizing marijuana, nesting and indexing the First Nation of Lubicon Lake, and increasing cases for social programs.

Alberta Finance has lent an additional $ 6.3 billion to next year's expenses due to uncertainty over when the budget will be presented. The money was placed in the province's contingency account.


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