Alberta reports $367M surplus on 2024 Budget Day

Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek says the city is "on its own" following Thursday's provincial Budget, with no clear indication whether money will be coming to Calgary for affordable housing.

Now is the time to be mindful and responsible, Alberta’s government said Thursday, as it reported a $367 million surplus on 2024 Budget Day.

Minister of Finance Nate Horner tabled the United Conservative Party’s budget on the afternoon of Leap Day, and the second day of the spring legislature sitting, announcing billions in spending across various social sectors including healthcare, education, and water and wastewater.

Restrained spending was expected following a televised address by Premier Danielle Smith last week, in which she described the budgets of recent years as a “rollercoaster,” and proposed a solution to that volatility — higher contributions to the Alberta Heritage Fund.

On Thursday, Horner said the province would indeed be following that plan — depositing $2 billion into the Heritage Fund, which it says will increase the market value of the fund to a forecast of more than $25 million. Alberta says the fund could be worth between $250 billion and $400 billion by 2050.

Titled “A responsible plan for a growing province,” Budget 2024 outlines the spending for a province which grew more than four per cent last year — with targeted investments in business and tech, the promised restructuring of healthcare, and an extended completion date for promised tax cuts for Albertans making $60,000 or less.

The province says the new tax bracket — eight per cent on the first $60,000 of earnings — will be implemented over two years, so Albertans will see it in 2027.

RELATED: ‘One last shot’: Alberta premier talks lower oil and gas revenue, Heritage contributions in Budget 2024 preview

Horner said the Alberta is in a better position than the rest of the country — and better than under the last government — but it’s not immune to pressures like debt and growth, risks posed by geopolitical tensions, and federal policies which he called “harmful and foolish.”

Healthcare reform has been long-anticipated, after the premier said she would complete an overhaul of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

This year’s investment in healthcare will do just that, with $26 billion aimed at increasing capacity, improving primary care, reducing wait times, growing the workforce, and advancing the Health Care Action Plan. It also says Alberta’s primary healthcare system will be modernized through improved access to family physicians, the development of a compensation model for nurse practitioners, and increasing access to medical education in rural and Indigenous communities.

Horner says the money will also go towards increasing the number of family medicine and general physicians across the province.

In education, Alberta says it is focused on adding learning spaces and assisting students in need of extra help.

Horner explains $1.9 billion has been set aside for education, including $681 million in new funding for the planning, design, construction, and modernization of schools across the province. Alberta says this includes 43 new projects announced in the budget, which would create 35,000 new or modernized spaces.

READ MORE: Alberta student advocacy group calls on province to prioritize K-12 students in Budget 2024

It also says it wants to put $1.5 billion toward educational learning supports for vulnerable students, children with specialized learning needs, and other students requiring additional supports.

Moves are also being made to support post-secondary education, including $1.5 billion for 3,200 more apprenticeship seats at schools in Alberta’s biggest cities.

The University of Calgary is receiving $55 million to add 1,000 spaces.

Amidst widespread conversation on the country’s housing crisis, and the unprecedented number of inter-provincial migrants coming to Alberta, the province has allocated $717 million in capital grants for affordable housing.

And, as concern around public safety boils over in Calgary and Edmonton, Horner says $49 million has been allocated to first responders and sheriffs, including 100 police officers in high crime areas of the big cities through the Safe Streets Action Plan.

On the heels of Alberta’s worst year for overdoses and toxic drug poisonings, Alberta has earmarked $328 million in capital funding to create recovery communities and mental health facilities for children and youth.

READ MORE: Alberta continues to break records on opioid deaths, with 2023 averaging 4 per day: data

With extremely dry conditions this winter, and a summer forecasted to be more fiery than ever before — the province is preparing to fight an unprecedented number of wildfires and battle extreme drought. To prepare to handle that efficiently and effectively, $206 million has been allotted to increase Alberta’s capacity to fight wildfires and purchase new firefighting equipment.

On the same wavelength, millions is being allotted to Alberta’s water resources — $238 million to the Water for Life Strategy and $206 million for the Alberta Municipal Water and Wastewater program — to help communities build high-priority water supply projects, as well as water and wastewater treatment plants and disposal facilities.

Investing in community infrastructure is also important, the province says, adding that $25 billion over three years will go toward public infrastructure as well as the people who work on those projects.

Alberta says this capital funding will support 24,000 direct jobs and 13,000 indirect jobs across the province.

Attracting business and investment continues to be a top priority for the province, which has pushed Alberta to invest $32 million over three years to fund the Designated Industrial Zone Pilot Project, which will build three new water intakes and connected infrastructure in the Industrial Heartland.

According to the province, the Industrial Heartland is the first Designated Industrial Zone in Alberta which spans five different municipalities.

Horner says this is a responsible budget which takes steps to build a stronger and brighter future for Alberta.

“I have said before that you can’t run around with champagne tastes on a beer budget forever,” he said. “Sooner or later — and probably sooner — you end up with an empty glass and you’re still thirsty.

“I’m not much for champagne,” Horner continued. “I’m not much for spending away what you should be saving for tomorrow. That’s why I’m so proud to present this budget that stays true to my value and Alberta’s values.

“Budget 2024 is a beer budget with an eye to the future.”

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