B.C. Finance Minister Carole James presents the provincial budget in Victoria on Tuesday. (Tom Fletcher - Black Press)

2019’s “status quo” budget accepted cautiously by Kelowna Chamber

“(This budget) is to appeal to an NDP base.”

Young families and students will benefit from 2019’s “status quo” B.C. budget, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce members heard Monday.

“(This budget) is to appeal to an NDP base, but even those in the base thought they could go further, particularly from a poverty reduction perspective,” Dan Rogers, the chamber’s executive director, told a roomful of local business people eager to hear how the budget would effect their bottom line.

One of the most significant budget items is the $380-million B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, which will give families with children up to age 18 as much as $3,400 a year.

The new benefit, which kicks in October 2020, will be combined with the early childhood tax benefit, which is only paid for kids up to age six. Families earning up to $97,487 a year will be eligible for the benefit.

Chamber members were told, however, plenty of people will be excluded from this benefit.

For example, in a two-income home where each person’s net income is $60,000, there would be no payment, even if it’s a home with three children.

Gains made in education include a boost to the Kindergarten to Grade 12 budget of $550 million over three years.

It’s been increased to cover growing enrolment and the extra teachers and support staff required to meet the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision on class size and composition. Education funding to school districts is now $5.97 billion a year.

There was also $2.7 billion earmarked for maintaining and replacing schools in the public system. That will benefit Lake Country, which is slated for a new middle school and community centre, chamber members were told.

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Around $3.3 billion has been designated for post-secondary facilities, which includes the new health sciences building at Okanagan College.

Post-secondary students also got some help in this budget, with the eradication of interest on students loans. That’s a savings of an average of $2,300 after graduation.

While the benefits to young families and children have taken centre stage, Rogers said the B.C. Chamber was glad to see a balanced budget, but is concerned about the cost at which it cam, and what’s around the corner.

“The business community and Kelowna chamber concern is that it’s being balanced on the back of business through taxation,” he said.

“The provincial government has invested in affordability, but business has taken on most of the load in that.”

Businesses, he said, are facing a cumulative effect of immense tax increases that will likely stall their ability to grow.

Of note is the Employer Health Tax. Businesses are now officially footing the bill to the tune of $1.9 billion, while still contributing to the MSP.

The Employer Health Tax will cover the full phase-out of MSP premiums in 2020 and then some. The new tax will have a negative effect on growth and investment by businesses and employers paying the full cost, including some not-for-profit organizations, said Rogers.

The government is overcharging in 2019 by $600 million over what it requires, according to its own 2018 budget estimates.

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