Monday, March 17, 2008

good news and bad for province

First, the good: Jack Mintz is chair of the Financial Investment and Planning Advisory Commission. Mintz told the Calgary Herald on Jan 21 that the Alberta government "needs much more fiscal discipline" and "[t]he most important message that will come out of our report will be why Albertans should save."

The Herald goes on to note that
A growing chorus of business leaders, policy experts and politicians are calling on the Alberta government to curb spending increases and pursue a more aggressive savings plan.
Resource dollars paid to the province are projected to drop nearly in half by 2009-2010 from the peak in 2005-2006. While the government's total savings are nearly $40 billion -- including about $16 billion in the Heritage Fund -- resource revenues have totalled an eye-popping $106 billion in the past 20 years.
During the past five years, provincial spending has ballooned more than 60 per cent, topping a projected $33 billion this year....
the Alberta government missed its budget spending targets by $9 billion over the past decade, while only 8.6% of non-renewable resource revenue from 1997 until 2005 was directed into the Heritage Fund.
"This is the biggest policy issue in front of the government," argued Roger Gibbins, president of the Canada West Foundation. "Of all the things we may be lacking a clear sense of direction in the province, this is [number] one" ....
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce calculates that had 30% of resource revenues been deposited annually into the Heritage Fund as was the case when it was created in 1976, it would now be worth $128 billion

The bad: There is no reason to believe the Stelmach government is inclined to listen. Lyle Oberg, who as Finance Minister appointed the Mintz panel last year, told the Herald that, "Saving just simply for saving's sake is probably wrong." Last week, Mintz noted the PC campaign platform wasn't grounded in much fiscal "reality". The Mintz report will also likely get buried unless the media talks it up. Going door to door in February it seemed to me that there was no shortage of people who were aware that the Royalty Review Panel called for higher royalties. If the Mintz report calls for more saving will it get the same penetration? Saturday's Herald said that Mintz' committee delivered its report "months ago" and the P"C"s have still not responded to it.

We're going to hit a fiscal wall here in the next couple of years.... They haven't had to prioritize in recent years; they've said yes to everything.
- Scott Hennig, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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