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Yesterday, NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci tabled Budget 2017. AUPE staff examined the budget further and we’re pleased to give members a breakdown and what it may mean to them.

In the past, we’ve seen governments attack front-line workers using the same tired old tactic of scapegoating the public service instead of providing the support and funding needed for a growing province.

Overall, Alberta Budget 2017 resists that knee-jerk reaction and invests in strengthening services and programs Albertans rely on that you deliver. While these are steps in the right direction, there is still a long way to go and AUPE knows many members will continue to feel stress on the front lines. That’s why we will continue to advocate for more investments where they are needed.

Government Services

Government operating expenses are budgeted to grow by 2.2 per cent in 2017-18, well below the 3.3-per-cent rate of population growth plus inflation. With the exception of staffing increases in the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General and Children’s Services, there is minimal change to staffing levels in government departments and agencies. This will continue to add pressure to front-line staff who are delivering the services Albertans rely on.

Justice and Solicitor General

Funding increases were provided to address staffing pressures in the Crown Prosecution Service and Resolution and Court Administration Services. Budget 2017 includes funding for approximately 117 additional Full Time Equivalents (FTE). The additional staff will help relieve some of the mounting pressure on the province’s court system, and will hopefully reduce the systemic backlogs we have been seeing.

The budget also includes an additional 170 FTE for Correctional Services, which will help reduce the strain felt by members on the front line.

Children’s Services

Budget 2017 provides increased funding for Child Intervention Services, which will lead to an additional 61 FTE.

The budget also provides funding for the $25/day child care pilot project, with additional funding in future years to expand the project.

Other highlights

Stable funding to Employment and Income Support, and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), which will both see increases to try to keep up with caseload growth.

Health Care

Budget 2017 includes a 3.3-per-cent increase to health funding, roughly equal to the province’s projections for population growth plus inflation. However, funding targets for 2018-19 and 2019-20 are budgeted to increase by 2.5 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively. These budgeted increases would fall short of population growth plus inflation, which is currently projected at 3.4 per cent in both years. Any funding increase that does not equal at least population growth plus inflation will lead to greater stress on front-line services.

Home Care and Long-Term Care

Included in the 2017-18 increases to health funding is an 11 per cent increase to funding for investment in community care, with an added emphasis on home care. The budget also commits to adding over 1,000 new continuing care beds. The capital plan includes funding for 145 public long-term care beds at Edmonton’s Norwood Long Term Care Facility, along with funding for 200 public long-term care beds in Calgary’s Complex Continuing Care Facility, which will be built over the course of four years. However, it is unclear whether or not the remaining beds will be public. The government needs to live up to its commitment to create 2,000 new public long-term care beds.

In addition, Alberta Health Services is expected to add an additional 1,500 FTE in home care, continuing care, and the primary care network.

Education

Funding for post-secondary operations will increase by two per cent per year for each of the next three years. The government has also extended the tuition freeze for a third straight year.

As previously announced, the government will eliminate school fees related to instructional supplies or materials, and transportation for eligible students to their designated school. This will reduce school fees by $54 million per year.

Boards and Agencies

A funding increase of $13 million this year to Legal Aid, – a 15.8-per-cent increase over last year’s budget – is a welcome move, but there is still a long way to go to catch up from years of neglect.

Revenue

Budget 2017 does little to break the province’s dependence on non-renewable resource revenues. Resource revenues remain over $5 billion less than 2014-15 levels, and while the government is forecasting resource revenues to increase as oil prices recover, resource revenues in 2019-20 will still fall more than $2 billion short of 2014-15 levels. However, there is no indication that the government is willing to replace this hole in the budget with other forms of revenue, even though by its own estimates, Alberta could raise an additional $8.5 billion in tax revenue, and still be the lowest taxed province in the country.

Deficit and Debt

We have heard a lot of fear mongering about the size of the provincial deficit, and the growing provincial debt load. The reality is that the deficit is still at manageable levels, and slashing spending to reduce the deficit just as we begin to climb out of a two-year recession will only do more harm than good. Alberta’s net-debt-to-GDP ratio remains the lowest of all the provinces, and interest rates are among the lowest they have been.

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