Yukon budget breaks a billion, again

Premier Darrell Pasloski announced another record budget for the Yukon this week. On Tuesday he told the Yukon legislature that his government will spend $1.3 billion in the 2014/2015 fiscal year.

Premier Darrell Pasloski announced another record budget for the Yukon this week.

On Tuesday he told the Yukon legislature that his government will spend $1.3 billion in the 2014/2015 fiscal year. The government is planning for a $72 million surplus.

The territory’s key revenue source remains a federal transfer payment that continues to grow. Total transfers from the government of Canada are expected to top $1 billion for the first time in 2014/2015.

He told a Yukon Chamber of Commerce lunch last week that his goal is for Yukon to become a net contributor to Canada.

“We still have a ways to go,” he said later in an interview. “We’re still reliant upon a territorial formula financing that comes from the federal government. So there’s more work to be done, but I believe that we’re on the right path.”

The capital budget for this year is $293 million, again the largest in Yukon’s history.

Major expenditures include $65 million on highway and bridge work, and $28 million towards a new F.H. Collins school.

Over the last year the government failed to spend close to $40 million it had allotted for capital projects. This was due to delays on projects like the F.H. Collins school.

“The bottom line is I’m not happy that that money didn’t get spent,” said Pasloski in a news conference. “I think that it could have been used in the economy last year.”

The premier also announced plans for big spending down the road.

The government will spend $2 million this year towards planning a new hydro dam. This power could be used to fuel the mines that will drive Yukon’s economy in the future, Pasloski said in his budget address.

“Yukon’s current total capacity from all sources – hydro, diesel and wind – is only 147.6 megawatts. Most mining companies in Yukon today are planning to utilize liquefied natural gas to meet their power needs. Hydro power would be much cleaner and more affordable and increase the viability of many existing and future mining operations.”

The government has also promised a new 300-bed continuing care facility in Whitehorse. It will spend $6.9 million this year on planning.

The first phase will be a 150-bed facility, with the potential to expand as need increases.

NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson said these plans do not reflect what Yukon seniors want.

“I don’t know many seniors who dream of living in a 300-bed facility,” she said in a news release. “And what about seniors who live in Yukon communities? Is the government planning to centralise services in Whitehorse once again?”

The Yukon Party is “spending like drunken sailors” in this budget, said Liberal Leader Sandy Silver in a news release.

“The Yukon Party has stumbled around for two and a half years – not listening to Yukoners and with no vision for the future. They have now made a decision and plan to try to spend their way to re-election.”

The heavy spending in a short window will ensure that more contracts go to Outside companies, he said.

“The short-term political goals of the government are the top priority, not properly managed and well-timed spending.”

The premier also promised spending to upgrade the Yukon’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The government will subsidize wireless communications infrastructure so that every community has access to the equivalent of 4G cellular service by 2017. That will cost $760,000 over the next two years.

The government has also earmarked $600,000 to plan a fibre optic link between Whitehorse and Juneau, Alaska. That would give the Yukon a second telecommunications link to Outside, reducing the risk of outages and encouraging competition.

The small business tax rate will be cut from four per cent to three per cent this year, said Pasloski.

And the government will initiate a red tape review to report on administrative burdens on business and suggest targets to reduce them.

Yukon will also review its business incentive program, which subsidizes contractors to the government when they source labour and materials locally.

And the premier also promised investments in tourism. First Nation cultural centres will get $500,000 this year, and $590,000 will go to promoting Yukon as a tourism destination in overseas markets.

The budget will be debated in the Yukon legislature over the coming weeks.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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