Finance Minister Carole James says taxpayer-supported debt will continue to rise as more public infrastructure is built. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

NDP inherits $2.7 billion surplus, eyes spending

B.C. debt up $591M, will continue to grow with construction

Finance Minister Carole James released the province’s public accounts Tuesday, showing an operating surplus of $2.7 billion inherited from the B.C. Liberal government.

The audited books show a $3.4 billion increase in revenue over the finance ministry forecasts for the fiscal year that ended in March. Much of that is tax revenues, including $1.5 billion in additional personal income tax revenue, $212 million more than forecast in corporate income tax, $305 million in extra provincial sales tax, and a windfall of $787 million more in property transfer tax.

The foreign buyer tax added to property transfer tax in Metro Vancouver a year ago raised $102 million of the total.

The total surplus is close to the $2.8 billion surplus announced June 28 by former finance minister Mike de Jong. James said the surplus is a result of a strong economy, and also program underfunding by the former government that left people not sharing in the province’s prosperity.

With last year’s surplus applied to debt, B.C. Liberal finance critic Shirley Bond said the NDP government has indicated only that will spend surplus funds accumulating this year.

“The is should not be a one-time spending spree that government can never afford again,” Bond said. “We need to see a plan to sustain revenues.”

The NDP government will present its budget update on Sept. 11. James said it will carry on most of the previous government’s plans, adding a $100-per-month increase in income assistance rates and removal of fees from adult basic education courses.

The surplus will be handled in “a much more equitable way,” with more investments in services for people, James said. The full NDP program will wait for its first complete budget in February, and James said it will be a balanced budget as directed in her ministerial mandate letter from Premier John Horgan.

“Education is a really good example of the wrong direction the previous government took,” James said.

The audited books for last year show an increase of $591 million in the province’s taxpayer-supported debt, reflecting new construction of Vancouver Island hospitals and other capital expenditures. That will continue as more public infrastructure projects are carried out, James said.

One item facing James in the spring is the NDP promise to eliminate bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver. That means the debt from the Port Mann-Highway 1 project becomes part of government debt.

“Stay tuned,” James said, indicating the government’s plans for bridge tolls will be announced shortly.

Also coming within the next week is a plan from Justice Minister David Eby to deal with the rate pressure on the Insurance Corp. of B.C., which is dealing with a rapid increase in accident claim and legal costs.

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