Restraint-style budget hurts

It should have come as no surprise that restraint was the word of the day when the B.C. government handed down its budget.

Restraint has become a way of life for many Capital Region families who have seen their household costs rise while incomes fail to keep pace.

So it should have come as no surprise that restraint was the word of the day when the B.C. government handed down its budget Tuesday.

There were few frills in the document delivered by Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, one that promised to return the province’s books to the black by 2013-14, just in time for the next provincial election.

Falcon’s budget promises to hold the line on program spending, freeze public-sector wages and sell off $700 million in provincial assets to begin to dig their way out.

While the Liberal government is taking steps to get a handle on the province’s deficit – forecast at $969 million for the coming fiscal year – Capital Region families will have to tighten their belts just a little bit more.

MSP premiums will rise for the fourth time since the 2009 election. The newest hit of four per cent, beginning in 2013, will take about $60 a year out of the pockets of a family of three or more.

The budget delivered little, however, to stimulate the province’s fragile economy or open the door to the workforce for the unemployed.

A $10,000 tax break for first-time homebuyers is only for new homes, providing little help to young couples cobbling their pennies together to get into the housing market – an even tougher challenge in the Greater Victoria market.

And a $1,000 home renovation tax credit is only available to seniors. Eliminating those conditions for the tax breaks could have helped strengthen the softening housing market and opened up jobs in the construction sector.

The move to transition B.C. from the harmonized sales tax back to the PST left the minister with some tough choices to make. This budget makes it clear Falcon wants to get those decisions out of the way now, saving the good news for next year’s pre-election budget.