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'Boring' budget doesn't put families first

Families first was a popular political slogan for the Liberals, but families weren't necessarily first in an admittedly modest budget unveiled Tuesday by B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong.

De Jong acknowledged that what he described as a "boring" budget in "a happy state of boring" has little in the way of spending surprises or windfalls.

"Economic growth and spending discipline mean we have some modest additional dollars — and I do emphasize modest — to help families," de Jong said at a news conference prior to tabling his budget.

The budget promises $350 million over the next three years for families and individuals most in need.

The bulk of that scant new spending — $243 million — will go to Community Living B.C. and $15 million will go to the Children's Ministry for children and youth with special needs.

The rest of the spending touted for families will go to the RCMP policing costs, which will see a $15 million increase, and $6 million for legal-aid services.

The budget holds the line on K-12 and post-secondary education spending, with no money included for either a $2 million court judgment against the government in favour of B.C. teachers, or funds to address issues such as class-size and working conditions at the heart of the legal dispute. The government has publicly estimated the total potential cost of the case could reach $1 billion.

B.C. residents will see a $2.50-per-month increase in maximum monthly premiums for the Medical Services Plan but no change in personal income tax rates.

The province will proceed with a previously announced B.C. Training and Education grant, which provides $1,200 as a one-time payment for every child in B.C. born in 2007 or later whose family has a registered education savings plan in their name. De Jong said RESP registration has jumped 10 per cent since his government announced the plan last year but indicated enrolment still falls short of the 40,000 families who qualify every year.

"We hope that as this program now gets going and we dedicate the money for it, that people will take advantage," he said.

De Jong also reiterated the previously announced B.C. Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which will provide a tax benefit of up to $55 per month — $660 a year — for children under six years old beginning April 1, 2015.

And starting Wednesday, the government will increase the threshold for a first-time home buyers exemption from the property tax transfer from $425,000 to $475,000 - a modest announcement that merited mention in a bare-bones budget.

De Jong acknowledged there was little to ease the tax burden on families.

"Admittedly, the tax relief in this budget is pretty thin," he said.

"I don't want to in any way pretend that the advent of these programs suddenly makes life so much easier for families. It's a modest contribution but a positive contribution, nonetheless."

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said the government's budget may be balanced, but electricity rates will go up, education spending will go down and health-care premiums will increase.

"There's a lot of pressure on families, so their budget may be balanced in the cabinet, but it's not balanced out here for people," Sinclair said.

___

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