Last week, the B.C. government published public accounts, showing that the province’s finances are in a healthy place, with a $1.3 billion surplus for the 2021/2022 fiscal year. This was a stark change from the $9.7 billion deficit the NDP had projected in last year’s budget.
Finance Minister Selina Robison went on to attribute this more than $10 billion difference to sooner-than-expected economic recovery after COVID-19 and billions in extra tax revenues.
While it’s encouraging to hear that our province is in a stronger fiscal position than government had originally predicted, it certainly raises some important questions, particularly in light of the current affordability crisis.
The first area of concern for me is that the major reason we were not in a deficit is because of increased tax revenue — money collected from British Columbians through income tax, the employer health tax, and the property transfer tax, among others.
It’s worrying to see tax revenue increase so dramatically, as it means there is less money in people’s pockets at a time when the cost of basic necessities is higher than ever.
Additionally, in the case of the property transfer tax, it means the government is actually profiting from skyrocketing housing prices to the tune of a rather coincidental, $1.3 billion.
The second issue I see with this news is that it means government has chosen to delay providing inflation relief, even though we are in a strong place financially. Months ago our BC Liberal caucus suggested temporarily suspending gas taxes and providing people with one-time relief through the Climate Action Tax Credit. But unfortunately, our suggestions weren’t considered.
It is hard to understand why government would choose to hold on to taxpayer dollars rather than support people who are struggling to make ends meet — especially in the case of a government that came to power on the promise of making life more affordable.
The $1.3 billion surplus is even more confusing when you think about the other things in B.C. that desperately need funding like health care and resources for mental health and addictions. We know that at least some room was available in the budget, so why was that money not being spent on the services British Columbians need, services that are in dire need of additional support?
A more than $1 billion surplus shows that our government is not lacking in resources, so what then is preventing them from investing in British Columbians? It’s a question that I have been asking myself frequently over the last few days, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t come up with an answer that doesn’t worry me.