The Province of Alberta has put out a website so Albertans can take a crack at balancing the books. I decided to take a crack. Now let me give you a little history. Twenty years ago, when I was at the University of Calgary, I lived through the Ralph Klein / Jim Dinning era that fixed Alberta’s finances, largely through reduction in government spending and getting the government out of the way. While there was much gnashing ot teeth amongst students at the U of C (including then Students Union President Naheed Nenshi) about government abdicating it’s responsibilities, I got my hands on the University’s line item budget and identified a significant number of places where money was being spent that clearly was not contributing to what I thought University was for. I learned about the lavish benefits that unionized staff received and spending supporting supposedly endowed galleries. When we published this in our student paper we were vilified by the general student community and some of the administration. I became a big supporter of less government spending.
I was disappointed by the Government’s current efforts to educate Albertan’s on where the money goes. The website, budgetchoice.ca, sets you up by asking you to set the bitumen price for royalties, then provides a bunch of options on cuts. However, most of these cuts are TINY. They give options about cutting 3-5% of spending on education and health care, cutting a few million from agricultural support. I selected a bitumen price $5 below the 2012 average (which is safe), and then went through and selected essentially ALL of the cuts on offer and still had a deficit of $0.7 Billion. The cuts on offer total up to under $2 Billion out of a budget of nearly $40 Billion. We can cut a lot more than that.
Then the website offers up tax increases on business, income taxes, sales taxes and health premiums. Here, the tax options are not tiny – they are BILLIONS of dollars in extra revenue.
The message the government is trying to sell is that we have a revenue problem, not a spending problem. But Alberta already earns more per capita than any other province and spends far more per capita than any other province. Premier Redford is wrong. Alberta has a spending problem. A massive problem.
The premier should change the budget choice website to publish a line-item summary of where the $39 billion dollars went in 2012. Not just per government department, but by program in each department. Expose how much is spent on administration. Expose how much of a program to help “the poor” or disabled actually gets to them. Let us debate the real spending by showing it to us. I cannot believe that there isn’t billions in waste in a $39 Billion budget. And places where the private sector and competition could drive costs down (such as education and health care).