B.C.’s budget was announced at the provincial legislature on Tuesday, and the province has a $264 million surplus for 2016 to 2017.
That surplus is expected to increase to $287 million next year and then to $373 million for the 2018/19 fiscal year.
“B.C.’s fiscal balance sheet is the envy of other provinces,” said finance minister Mike de Jong in his budget speech.
“We’ve been following a prudent plan that includes a focus on paying down our direct operating debt, which is projected to be at its lowest point since 1984-85 if we stay on course.”
The balanced budget will invest $1.6 billion in new and increased spending over the next three years, including $673 million in support for families, children, and individuals in need, including $217 million for the Ministry of Children and Family Development and $456 million for the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
Another $143 will go towards supporting jobs in B.C. communities.
The province will also see some major changes to Medical Services Plan. Children are now exempt from all MSP premiums and premium assistance will be enhanced effective January 1 of 2017. The government estimates 355,000 people will see their premiums reduced as a result and another 45,000 won’t have to pay premiums at all. By the time the changes are implemented, almost two million B.C. residents won’t be paying premiums.
B.C.’s red-hot housing market will see some changes as well. Starting this summer, the Property Transfer Tax Act will require home owners to list whether they’re permanent residents or citizens, and if they aren’t, what their citizenship and country of residence is. The idea is to identify foreign investment in the province.
Property owners who are purchasing a newly constructed home worth up to $750,000 will be exempt from the property transfer tax, saving purchasers up to $13,000 on their homes. To offset the new rules, a third tier will be added to the property transfer tax rate, increasing it from 2% to 3% for homes worth $2 million and over.
A taxpayer debt reduction strategy has also been implemented called the B.C. Prosperity Fund. About $100 million will be allocated from the projected 2016/16 surplus to the fund not only to reduce debt, but to invest in health care, education, transportation, family supports, and other priorities, according to the government.
A minimum of half of each year’s allocation for the Prosperity Fund will go towards debt reduction, and the government plans to funnel future LNG revenues into it as well.
An additional $3.1 billion will be allocated for transportation infrastructure, which includes transit and highway upgrades, $2.9 billion for healthcare projects, and $1.7 billion for seismically upgrading elementary and high schools.