Last year’s provincial budget introduced some of the most dramatic cuts to Saskatchewan’s public services and social safety net since the years of Grant Devine. Across the province, people spoke up for their communities. Everyday Saskatchewan people lobbied, petitioned, rallied, marched, and demonstrated in defense of libraries, K-12 education, universities, municipal services, health care, rural bus service, early childhood supports, funeral services for low-income people, and more.
As a result, the Saskatchewan Party government was forced to listen and walk back some of the cuts. But many of those devastating cuts remain in place.
“At the same time last year’s budget introduced sweeping cuts and proposed rollbacks, on the revenue side, the increase in sales and consumption taxes hit workers and everyday people the hardest,” says Tom Graham, President of CUPE Saskatchewan.
“What we would have liked to see in this year’s budget is a move toward fair taxation, where big corporations and the wealthiest residents pay their fair share. The reason consumption taxes are called ‘regressive’ is because they hit the people with the least money the hardest,” says Graham.
Revenue from regressive sales taxes is forecast to increase to $2.2 billion up from $1.3 billion in the 2015/2016 budget. At the same time, revenue from corporate income tax has decreased from $1 billion to just over $600 million.
“Although the government mismanaged an unprecedented economic boom prior to the downturn, the fact is Saskatchewan has one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios after B.C. and Alberta,” says Graham.
“So we are looking for sound economic policy that addresses the social deficit in this province, rather than simply looking out for the well-to-do and out-of-province campaign donors,” says Graham. “People who work in group homes and other vital community-based organizations haven’t seen a pay increase in years, for example. It’s shameful.”
After years of underfunding social services and community-based organizations, the small increases in this budget are not nearly sufficient.
“We would hope this government would turn away from expensive, failed policies like P3 projects and private health clinics and invest in adequate staffing in long-term care, in classroom supports in K-12 education, in our universities, and in the municipal services that are the foundation of so much economic activity,” says Graham.
Funding for municipalities continues to decrease, which downloads the cost of fiscal mismanagement onto municipalities and the public. The maintenance costs and interest costs for the new P3 schools, meanwhile, is up 39% in this budget, from $9.7 million to $13.5 million. Funding for front-line health services remains insufficient, despite a workload crisis in the health system.
“Instead of scrambling from one problem to the next, I think Saskatchewan people would prefer to see sound investment in this province’s future,” says Graham. “That starts with a fairer tax system on the revenue side.”
CUPE is Canada’s largest union representing 650,000 workers. In Saskatchewan, CUPE represents 30,000 workers in health care, K-12 education, municipalities, universities, libraries, group homes, day cares and other sectors.