Seniors and families with children will have to pay more for prescriptions in a Saskatchewan budget that pinches pennies to keep the books in the black.
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz said their out-of-pocket costs will rise to $20 from $15 per prescription.
“They haven’t changed for years … I mean it’s been since 2007. It’s a $5 change,” Mr. Krawetz said in outlining his plans Wednesday for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The move is expected to save $10-million.
The budget also increases ambulance fees for seniors by $25 to $275 a trip. A standard fee of $20 a month is also being introduced for personal hygiene supplies for special care-home residents.
But it was the film industry that was left reeling after the budget.
The government said it is winding down the film employment tax credit. The move will save up to $3-million this year and $8-million annually after existing credits are paid out.
Ron Goetz, president of the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association, said the move will kill the province’s production industry.
“Wherever they have cancelled a tax credit in the past for film and television, those companies have all had to move out. There’s no way around this one. You are out of business in this province,” Mr. Goetz said. “If this would have happened three or four years ago, we would have lost Corner Gas.’”
Virginia Thompson, a producer of the popular TV comedy, said if the production company wants to make a Corner Gas movie down the road, it won’t be able to afford to shoot in Saskatchewan.
“We would have to fake it in another province,” she said.
Ms. Thompson said the cut also calls into question the future of the series Insecurity, an action comedy about a fictional national security agency. If the series is picked up for a third season, it will have to move to another province, she said.
The cost-saving measures are part of the government’s plan to nip at expenses.
The province is forecasting revenues of $11.3-billion and expects to spend $11.2-billion – up 4.7 per cent from last year. That would leave a surplus of $95-million. By law, half of that will be transferred to the province’s rainy-day fund.
Mr. Krawetz said the government is making responsible choices while other jurisdictions face financial trouble.
“Saskatchewan is the first province to table a balanced budget this year,” he said.
“Balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility are helping keep our economy strong.”
Marilyn Braun-Pollon, spokeswoman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the budget is on the right path.
“There’s a number of things that small business owners will like about this budget and first of all that it’s balanced, one of the few budgets in the country that will be balanced,” said Ms. Braun-Pollon.
“Also that they’re continuing to reduce the size and the cost of the civil service.”
The equivalent of 500 full-time government jobs are being cut, but the province says that will be done through retirements and managing vacancies.
Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union, was skeptical.
“An initial blush of it is we do believe that there will be actual layoffs and actual people losing their jobs out of this budget,” said Mr. Bymoen.
New spending focuses on promises the Saskatchewan Party made during the election campaign last fall. It includes money for highways, more medical operations, and a tax credit for first-time home buyers.
Other promises to be financed are extending the provincial sales tax exemption on children’s clothing to those under 18, funding 500 new child-care spaces and providing a scholarship for all high-school graduates to use at any post-secondary institution in the province.
“What we’re implementing in this budget is some of those promises, either implementing the first stage of them or fully implementing them,” said Mr. Krawetz.
“We have a number of programs that I think need to continue … and those are costs. When we look overall at the operating increase of 3.9 per cent, I think we’re going to be the envy of many provinces if not all.
“We’ve done a pencil sharpening on many things and you can see from reductions that we are implementing that we’ve been very prudent and cautious.”
The Opposition NDP said the budget means seniors will have to reach deeper into their pockets.
“Our concern is that we see a nickel and diming of seniors – in fact it goes well beyond nickel and diming,” said finance critic Trent Wotherspoon. “The Sask. Party’s … giving something on one hand, but they’re taking it and taking it and taking it again.”
Mr. Wotherspoon also noted that northern fire crews are being reduced from five members to four — a move the government said will save $400,000.
“It’s a small savings that comes with a big human risk,” he said.
Premier Brad Wall said after the budget that there were some tough decisions to make, like the film tax credit cut. He said the ambulance fees hadn’t increased since 1992 and there are more drugs covered under the province’s drug plan now.
But the premier said the measures are necessary because Saskatchewan doesn’t want to get a version of the Drummond report, referring a recent report from economist Don Drummond who told the Ontario government to adopt a host of austerity measures to reduce spending.
“This was pre-emptive. This budget’s prescriptive,” said Mr. Wall.
“It’s about a balanced budget, but we also want to pre-empt having decisions forced on the province at some date down the road because we didn’t look after the sustainability question. We’re not prepared to do that.”
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