Kamloops MLAs Stone, Milobar point out what's missing in new provincial budget

Local MLAs blast budget

A lack of cash to address a recent string of fatalities on Highway 5 through the North Thompson was among the glaring omissions pointed out Friday by Kamloops Opposition MLAs, who provided their cheers and jeers Friday for members of the local chamber of commerce.

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar and Kamloops-South Thompspn MLA Todd Stone addressed a group of about 50 people at the Delta Hotel on Friday for the Kamloops & District Chamber of Commerce’s yearly budget address.

Asked what they saw as the most significant impact in the budget for locals, the BC United MLAs pointed out what was lacking, while some initiatives they felt were overdue.

Milobar noted a lack of funds identified in this year’s budget for any safety improvements to the Highway 5 corridor north of Kamloops — something his BC United party has said it will commit to if elected this fall — as well as the fact dollar amounts for the proposed Kamloops cancer centre were surprisingly omitted from the budget due to a printing delay.

He also noted that while the governing NDP have acknowledged the need for an elementary school in Bachelor Heights, there are no dollars set aside in the budget for that project, either.

“Those are the three big things I’m going to keep pushing for,” Milobar said.

Stone said it was good to see there is still money in the budget for the proposed Pineview Valley elementary school, noting School District 73 is “bursting at the seams” with its enrolment. He also said Kamloops deserved better than the cancer centre budget omission.

Deficit budget a concern

Milobar, the BC United finance critic, raised concern over this year’s deficit budget.

The 2024-25 deficit is projected to rise to $7.9 billion, up from $5.9 billion in the updated 2023-24 forecast.

Milobar said the deficit is significant because last year’s deficit budget came with $5.5 billion in contingency dollars whereas the projected 7.9 billion this year only has contingencies in the neighbourhood of $3.7 billion.

“There is an actual true deficit, even with this budget right from the hop,” Milobar said.

He said he’s also concerned the province is projecting B.C.s growth will be above what the economic forecast council has advised the finance ministry. Milobar said the government usually projects about a per cent below what the council projects to provide an extra level of caution into revenue projections as they are balance out with expenses.

Employer Health Tax a plus

Included in the budget, the governing NDP has raised the threshold of the Employer Health Tax from $500,000 to $1 million.

According to the government, the change means 90 per cent of businesses will be exempt from the tax, estimated to save them more than $100 million a year.

Milobar praised the raise, adding its something he BC United has long advocated for, but also has concern over the way the tax will be distributed and that it’s “still on the backs” of the business community.

Flip tax should be sooner

The government also introduced a flipping tax to be will be implemented next year, targeting speculators who the province says are driving up housing costs.

Profits will be taxed if a home is resold within two years of purchase and revenue will go to homebuilding.

Milobar said the tax has BC United’s support but, while they are in favour of the concept, the party is still waiting to read the language of the legislation to get a sense of how it will be applied.

IVF needed now

Next year, a single cycle of free in-vitro fertilization treatment will be available to people, regardless of income, “who they love, or whether they have a partner,” said B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy.

Stone and Milobar lauded the move as some good news from the budget, adding the disappointing part is that it doesn't take effect until next year.

“We’re not inventing the procedure and the treatments. We're funding it. It's happening as we speak right now,” Milobar said, adding it needs to be implemented faster as people are taking on lines of credit or second mortgages on their homes to try to do this.

Missing in action

Milobar also lamented a lack of increased funding for the persons with disabilities rates, given the high deficit, as well as there being no rebates from the Workers Compensation Board surpluses in this budget.

Milobar said the board has a set ratio for a full reserve, and billions above that threshold in premiums.

“Nothing in this budget for that as well. It wouldn’t have impacted the bottom line for government or WorkSafe [but] it would have made a huge difference for small businesses in this province,” Milobar said, adding Ontario and other provinces have been working on such rebates.

More Kamloops News