The B.C. government is promising continued balanced budgets over the next three years thanks to a new tax on the highest earners, sugary drinks, vaping and companies like Netflix. The B.C. government is promising continued balanced budgets over the next three years thanks to a new tax on the highest earners, sugary drinks, vaping and companies like Netflix. “We’re asking those at the top who benefit most from our economy to contribute a little bit more,” said Carole James. “This really is a budget that builds a stronger British Columbia: not for a few at the top, but for everyone.” The government is projecting a $227 million surplus for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, along with $179 million in 2021/22. But it also announced three new tax measures to help achieve that: Effective immediately, the top marginal tax rate will increase from 16.8 per cent to 20.5 per cent on incomes over $220,000, giving the government an additional $216 million in the 2020/2021 fiscal year. Effective July 2020, implementing the PST for sweetened carbonated beverages, giving the government an additional $27 million in the 2020/2021 fiscal year. Effective July 2020, a new tax on “foreign sellers of software and telecommunication services” and Canadian sellers of vaping products that will generate an additional $11 million to the government. James said the increase to the top tax bracket — the second hike in three years — still left B.C. with the third lowest income taxes for people making under $475,000. “This will help to deliver the infrastructure and services that create good jobs and keep B.C.’s economy moving,” she said, arguing the new taxes were required to ensure the province wouldn’t have to cut funding to ministries at a time when the economy was slowing. Few new spending promises Outside those announcements, it was a relatively stand pat budget by the government, as it continued to build upon programs announced in previous budgets. However, there were some notable increases to planned spending. The government will spend around $130 million more in education this year than originally planned, due mostly to higher than projected enrolment. Around $50 million more will be earmarked over the next three years to for the homeless, including 500 additional shelter spaces. And spending in the next fiscal year on health care — long the biggest driver of costs in the provincial budget — was anticipated to be $21.5 billion 12 months ago, but is now $22.2 billion. One new program announced by the government is a “B.C. Access Grant” for post-secondary students. It will replace a former program that gave money to students when they completed their degree, instead giving it to them up front. The program will cost an additional $4 million a year (from approximately $37 million to $41 million), but students going to private universities or from high-income families will no longer be eligible to receive it. “Students are going to be graduating less in debt, and they’re going to be able to get their foot in the door in the first place,” said Tanysha Klaasen, chairperson for the B.C. Federation of Students. “This is something that’s going to … be assessed based on need, so the people that need the money the most are going to be getting it.” More money for infrastructure But some of the biggest increases to spending in the next three years will come from the province’s capital budget. The provincial government is expected to spend a record $22.9 billion in infrastructure over the next three years, for a bevy of projects announced that now need to be constructed. These include $1.9 billion in new or seismically-upgraded schools, $1.2 billion for an upgraded Royal Columbian Hospital, $1.3 billion for the new Pattullo Bridge, $2.8 billion for the Millennium Line extension to Vancouver’s Arbutus Street, and $6 billion for the Site C dam. It means the province’s debt to GDP ratio is expected to rise from 14.6 per cent to 17.1 per cent by 2023 — but James said she was comfortable with that increase. “It is sustainable. B.C. is in a very enviable position when it comes to debt,” she said. “When you’re seeing moderation in the market, the opportunity to be able to spur on those projects, to build British Columbia … to have the roads and bridges and transportation networks in place, to keep our economy growing, is critical.” One place where there was no major change was money allocated for collective agreements — James said the B.C. Teachers Federation would have to live within the two per cent salary increases budgeted by the province for other public unions.