REGINA — The Saskatchewan government is holding the line on taxes as it returns to a balanced budget that provides funding for mental health, volunteer firefighters and intersection safety.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer tabled her government's 2019-20 spending plan on Wednesday that, for the first time in years, predicts a surplus. It's forecasting $34 million more in revenue than in expenses.
"It's the right balance to keep our economy strong," Harpauer said during a news conference.
The government is prioritizing mental health, she said, with a $30-million spending increase.
About $14 million of that is to pay for doctors and nurses to staff a newly opened psychiatric hospital. The province said an additional $8 million is to go to new 140 mental health and addictions treatment beds.
The CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority said new beds will help ease the pressure felt by emergency rooms around the province.
"Without having those mental-health beds and those community beds supporting care ... patients just continue to come into our emergency rooms, get admitted and then leave — and then it's a vicious cycle," said Scott Livingstone.
The Opposition NDP has been critical of mental-health services in the province and welcomed the money, but said it is only a start and does not fully address an emerging crystal meth crisis.
The budget also includes a plan for an organ donor registry to be launched by next year, but the government has not ruled out the option of introducing presumed consent, said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
Harpauer said the budget fulfils a Saskatchewan Party election promise to create a $3,000 personal income-tax credit for volunteer firefighters who have served at least 200 hours.
There are also plans to spend $65 million over the next five years on rumble strips, lighting and new signs at intersections.
Harpauer said the safety initiatives were already in the works, but were sped up following the Humboldt Broncos hockey bus crash last spring that killed 16 people and injured 13.
While taxes aren't being increased, the government is eliminating credits and deductions for its potash production tax starting April 1. That will bring in $117 million more potash revenue than last year.
The government plans to keep a tight rein on capital spending at $2.7 billion, about the same as in the last budget.
Harpauer's fiscal blueprint marks the end of a three-year effort to get the province out of the red — a plan initiated by former premier Brad Wall and adopted by Moe.
An increase and expansion to the provincial sales tax in the last two years gave the government the footing to dig itself out of the hole while resource revenues were low, Harpauer said.
But Moe added the government must be cautious going forward. "If we look out the next few budget years, there aren't any large surpluses coming."
In 2019-20, the government expects to earn $2.3 billion through the PST. There is also $5 million in new revenue expected to come in from cannabis sales.
The budget does not mention any impact from a federally imposed carbon tax that will take effect April 1.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press