B.C. and the budget: What’s old is new again

The new  BC child tax credits amount to no more than $25 per child per year for eligible families. An article from the Victoria Times Columnist  – Victoria BC

There is an old joke in which a professor asks a student, “What does ‘paradigm’ mean?” And the student, who may not have been listening that closely to the professor’s clever language, blurts out a guess: “Is it 20 cents?”

So what is this new paradigm which Finance Minister Kevin Falcon talks about in the government’s budget and fiscal plan for the next three years? At first blush, this paradigm presumably applies to the current Christy Clark government, as well as to any future government following the next B.C. election. Indeed, the budget speech implies that the B.C. Liberals have been artful practitioners of this new paradigm for more than a decade, a world leader then in fiscal prudence, in managing spending and taxation wisely.

But wait – loads of examples of an old paradigm are evident in this budget. The overall budgetary stance is rather old school: maintaining support for health care and education expenditures, although at lower levels of new investments, while holding the line or freezing most other government ministries and program areas. The finance minister announced that the government is preparing to sell some surplus assets that sit on government’s books, costing money with no return to taxpayers. The stated goal is “to take those surplus assets and turn them into economic generators across British Columbia.” Those in the provinces with memories of the 1980s may feel a twinge of déjà vu, recalling the privatization measures and policies of past provincial administrations

. But this time it is not being billed as a major downsizing of the provincial public sector. Rather, the minister says the sales will affect less than two per cent of the province’s holdings and will raise about $700 million in the next three years. The Clark government is introducing the “B.C. FirstTime New Home Buyers’ Bonus.” This is a temporary, refundable income tax credit for first-time buyers who purchase newly built homes effective Feb. 21 (the day of the budget) until March 31, 2013, the end of the fiscal year for the provincial government. Those who qualify will receive a cheque for up to $10,000 from the provincial government.

This is a classic example of electoral-cycle budgeting, timed perfectly for the May 2013 election. On the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship, the finance minister says, “We remain committed to addressing climate change. However, four years in, the revenue neutral B.C. Carbon Tax remains the only one of its kind in North America. So this is a good time to pause and examine how the carbon tax is affecting our economic competitiveness.” The government intends to examine the tax’s impact on every economic sector. There is also talk of fast tracking environmental assessment approvals for mining operations.

This sounds more like the traditional paradigm of giving priority to a belief in economic competitiveness that is separate from, and of greater priority than, environmental sustainability and inherent rights of indigenous communities. So much, it would seem, for the contemporary paradigm of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The 2012 budget is also introducing two new tax credits for families with children – the Children’s Fitness Credit and the Children’s Arts Credit. While they are new as provincial tax benefits, they supplement existing credits offered by the federal government. In his budget speech, Falcon said families will be able to claim up to $500 in eligible expenses – per child, per credit, per year – for any eligible sports or arts programs. “That means a family with three children can claim up to $1,500 a year, assuming each child is involved in a sports or arts program outside the school system.” True, they may claim up to $1,500 in eligible expenses incurred in a tax year. However, in reality, these tax credits will return just $25 to families for each child, each year. Here again is an old trick of budgetary spin, not a new model of financial transparency. Falcon adds, though, that “we will continue seeking ways to make life a little easier for families as the climate of global economic uncertainty continues.”

 In other words, the Clark government is leaving open the possibility of some additional initiatives to assist families with children, especially with an election in 14 months, but in the current economic climate, it cannot be very much. What is new is old, like two worn-out dimes. Read more:  from the Victoria Times

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