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New Westminster MLA Dawn Black "really disappointed" with 2012 budget

The provincial government is promising to provide funding to hire more police officers and address class composition issues - but it's also planning to increase MSP premiums and to scale back annual increases to health care.

The provincial government is promising to provide funding to hire more police officers and address class composition issues - but it's also planning to increase MSP premiums and to scale back annual increases to health care.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon unveiled the 2012 provincial budget on Tuesday afternoon, describing it as prudent and disciplined.

"Fiscal discipline is at the very core of budget 2012," he said. "It puts us on the right path to eliminate the deficit, protect public services and build a more competitive economy."

Other budget highlights include: investing $165 million to establish a fund to deal directly with class composition issues; providing $237 million over three years to the Ministry of Justice, including $66 million a year to pay for an extra 68 police officers hired as part of the government's guns and gangs strategy; introducing the B.C. first-time new homebuyers' bonus, a temporary, refundable income tax credit for first-time buyers who buy newly-built homes before March 31, 2013; reducing the annual funding increases to health care from the average of seven per cent annually to three per cent.

New Westminster MLA Dawn Black looks forward to seeing the legislation that flows out of the budget but wasn't impressed. She was "very disappointed" with the budget and felt that Premier Christy Clark missed the mark with her first budget as premier.

"This was her chance to show British Columbia that she really wants to put families first," she said. "This is not a budget that puts families first, that puts seniors first."

According to Falcon, the tax, spend and borrow approach isn't just wrong, but is potentially catastrophic. He pointed to economies in Europe and the United States as examples.

Falcon said the 2012 budget sets out to eliminate the province's deficit as required by balanced budget legislation. The province is also aiming to balance its budget by 2013/2014.

According to Falcon, the government projects "modest" economic growth of 1.8 per cent this year, 2.2 per cent in 2013 and 2.5 per cent in 2014.

"These estimates are lower than the average of private sector forecasts - consistent with our always prudent approach," he said. "But they tell the same story: the B.C. economy is slowly, steadily picking up steam."

The province expects to generate $700 million in the next three years by selling surplus assets.

"We will also see a small lift in revenues from MSP premiums. They will increase by four per cent beginning in 2013," he said. "The impact on a family of three or more is about $5 a month, but the increase will generate $87 million a year in revenues for health care."

Falcon said the provincial government is also making a temporary, one percentage point increase in the general corporate income tax rate in 2014/15, which will triggered only if the province's fiscal situation worsens.

Black found it "quite incredible" that the finance minister announced increases to MSP premiums, and in the next breath stated that there maybe but maybe not be increases to corporate taxation in 2014.

"It's putting more pressure on middle-income earners and working families to pick up the cost of the tax cuts this government has provided for higher-income earners and the corporate sector," she said.

Black had hoped the budget speech would include an announcement about funding for an expansion to Royal Columbian Hospital, but it didn't.

While some of the budget announcements may sound positive, Black said the "devil is in the details" and more will be known about the budget impacts when it's analyzed further.

"There is nothing here for seniors, there is nothing here for families," he said. "This comes after a condemning report from the attorney general about seniors."

Black said the only mention made about seniors in the budget speech was an announcement about tax credits being offered for walk-in tubs and handrails. She's also worried that the budget made no mention of affordable housing and wants post-secondary institutions to reduce spending by one per cent when they're already facing challenges by status quo budgets.

Black wants to hear more about the refundable income tax credit for first-time buyers who buy newly built homes before March 31, 2013. While that could help generate some new home construction, she wonders how many homes can be built by the deadline and feels it will do little to provide affordable housing.

Black also wants to hear more about a promised fitness credit and art credit for children.

"That's a good thing, I think. We want our kids to have the opportunity to participate in programs that keep them fit," she said. "If it is a tax credit, what does it does for families who can't afford the fees?

Falcon sated that the province will be transferring money from its contingencies to income assistance.

"We are providing $294 million over the next three years - partly to address a growing demand for disability benefits, and also to respond to the relatively high numbers of single, employable people now receiving assistance," he said.

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