The budget is out. Federal and Provincial, although it’s Premier Brad Wall’s provincial one which I am stupefied by. Stupefied is the right word – I do feel like dumbassery is an actual virus that is reaching epidemic levels in the world at the moment, and if I spend too long reading the news (and especially social media ‘news’) it will lower my IQ.
So, Saskatchewan is in a mighty big deficit. I can see several reasons why this arose – financial mismanagement and some seriously dodgy deals (Global Transportation Hub, anyone?) – but mainly just the province being almost wholly reliant on oil and gas, and oil prices falling so dramatically. Common sense would dictate that even if we must rely on a volatile commodity, it would be sensible to save some money from when the markets were doing really well (‘Saskaboom!’) to cover us when they are not, like now. Norway does this with its oil money and has zero national debt. Neighbouring Alberta did similar and used the surplus to build pension funds and negate the need to charge provincial sales tax. Brad Wall just cut corporation tax and then ran out of money for anything useful.
If that were not stupid enough, the tactics he’s using to try and get rid of the deficit are just myopic. A 3% wage cut for public sector workers. This is fine for MLAs and the cabinet members and people on six figure salaries. It is most certainly NOT fine for teachers and nurses and, well, a whole host of underpaid but *useful* people.
In the budget itself, there were more horrors: cuts to schools, the universities, obscure things like the provincial hearing aid program, and then libraries and the Saskatchewan Transport Company rural bus service. But don’t worry folks, they cut the higher levels of income tax by half a percent! This is so obviously a budget written by people who never have to use and have never worked in any of those services. It doesn’t actually affect people’s take-home pay, (directly) so it must be OK, right?
All these things deliberately hurt the poor, the vulnerable and anyone living in rural areas, and they are all interlinked. Cutting the STC bus service saves around $17million. Which is the cost of just over a kilometre of the new Regina bypass that they’re building just so people can avoid coming into Regina. Obvi..! However, the STC was never supposed to be profitable. It’s a service designed to link up small towns and provide an essential route for people who need to travel to the cities who may not be able to drive – lets see, like older people, or cancer patients going in for treatment, or students getting to the SIAST campus on the Regina-Moose Jaw bus in the mornings. But hey, SIAST lost some funding too, so maybe it’s not worth going to any more anyway… you can just do all your studying at the library, right? But no… the libraries are screwed too. What provincial funding the city libraries received could be supplemented by City Hall funds instead, (which means our City taxes may well go up accordingly) but rural municipalities just don’t have the population numbers to make up the shortfall from local taxation. And guess what? The STC buses were crucial for transporting *actual books* for the inter-library loans scheme too.
The school and university cuts fly in the face of the ‘Saskatchewan brain drain’ too. People with degrees and useful skills tend to leave the province to go make money elsewhere. So, as a friend pointed out, the budget helps ‘keep them dumb and keep them here!’ And look! They can’t even get the bus outta here now! Less flippantly however, the argument in favour of cutting public spending to fund corporate tax cuts is always ‘oh we have to remain competitive, if we don’t keep corporations happy, they will just leave the province and set up where it’s cheaper’. That is a remote possibility I suppose, but more likely they will leave because there is a lack of skilled workers to work in them! Cutting education funding is not going to help that one little bit.
It gets worse. On top of all that, the budget raised Provincial Sales Tax to 6%, but then added it on to things that were previously exempt like restaurant meals and children’s clothing. This has caused uproar within the restaurant business community and I can see why. My coffee shop proved unmanageably expensive to operate anyway (and I have just suffered through my business tax return so this is very raw!) but adding 6% to all the prices would have killed it far earlier. More expensive treats would mean fewer regular customers, plus adding 6% on to the cost of the ingredients would seriously hack into the bottom line. The news predicts a lot of restaurant closures, but of course, it’s all the small independent businesses that come off worst – the sort that are least affected by the cut in corporation tax.
It is this last part that affects me so directly. It damages my chances of either setting up another coffee business or even just getting a new job in that line of work too. And I really, really need a job. I’m up to 27 applications now, still nothing. This is becoming crucial because, on top of everything else, Carl just got laid off from his job! After 5 years there, being incredibly busy and putting in some serious overtime, getting a pay rise in January and even winning an award for his work at one point, they just let him go last week with no warning whatsoever, along with 10 others in the same office. Little consideration for the fact that he was actually in the middle of working on projects at the time, nor that he was the only person in the Regina office doing that job with that skillset. The only other person who could do what he does is in Saskatoon and only works part time. Someone, somewhere is not thinking things through, and it’s at our expense. The company could lose a load of business over this, and Regina is a small town – their reputation is in the mud now.
He can get EI benefits, but it is not going to cover things for all four of us, so we will have to rely on the Saskatchewan Social Assistance Program – that is, provincial funding that will help us cover all the new provincial taxes on things like clothes for our kids and no doubt, go towards the hike in city taxes that will come to make up for the provincial cuts too. Ironic, isn’t it?
Want to help?? *bats eyelashes*