The B.C. Liberals released their provincial budget on Feb. 19, which they are promoting as a measured attempt to rein in the deficit while supporting British Columbian families as part of Premier Christy Clark’s campaign platform. As the guide for how our 7 per cent PST (among other taxes) is spent, it’s an important look at where the provincial government plans to go from here on out — assuming the Liberals stay in power long enough to implement it.
There’s been lots of coverage of how the new budget helps families, but as university students, we are bound to ask: what can students look forward to in the 2013/14–2015/16 budget? Much has been made of the government offering one-time funding of $1 200 for RESPs for prospective students — sadly, if you’re over the age of six, you don’t make the cut.
So, what does the budget mean for students and their universities right now?
In terms of government pressure to find savings, not much has changed from 2012, when the government stated it would work with post-secondary institutions to find savings of $50 million by 2014/2015. The government has now stated it will bump back the final deadline for reaching $50 million in savings to 2015/2016, giving schools a little more time to scrimp, save and ultimately compromise the educational experience for thousands of students. Sure, the government claims the cuts will not affect research, students or education programs. But nothing exists in a vacuum at a university (unless you’re talking about a vacuum in a physics lab); cuts are cuts, and they are felt everywhere.
In terms of funding in the immediate future, taxpayer-supported capital spending is scheduled to increase for 2013/2014 in most budget areas, including K–12 education and B.C. Transit, but will decrease for post-secondary education — by $191 million compared to 2012/2013. Even though taxpayer-supported capital spending is slated to increase for higher education by 2016 — the end date for the three-year budget — it will still be $76 million less than the $749 million updated forecast for this fiscal year. Meanwhile, the government expects revenue from post-secondary education fees will increase every year by, on average, $47 million, while the number of student spaces decreases.
Despite Amazon’s stock price, it turns out you still have to make money to spend money, and the new budget is also a little weak on where revenue might come from. Aside from the sale of unspecified government-held land and assets, the budget also relies on an optimistic outlook on revenues generated by natural gas exports. It’s hard to believe that the market for that resource will be so stable, especially over such a long period of time, not to mention the possible environmental impact of natural gas development in the province. And it’s not as if B.C. is the only place that produces the stuff — China can get natural gas for a cheaper price from Australia and Russia.
Though we might be dismayed now to see this year’s numbers, it’s important to remember that pre-election budgets are often nothing but fluff. The May election is only two-and-a-half months away, and government projections are so often wrong.