The provincial government handed down a budget Tuesday that was long on metaphor and short on brightly wrapped treasures.
"I'm happy we're staying the course," said Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris. "It's a balanced budget and it's forecast to be balanced with small surpluses over the next three years and the foreseeable future. We made that commitment and we're going to stick to it."
And while onlookers are quick to label the 2014 fiscal plan as "boring," Morris said that's alright.
"It takes as much work or more to maintain a balanced budget and not spend over and above what you're bringing in," he said. "So I applaud our government for doing that."
Also offering congratulations to the B.C. Liberals was the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, which has long encouraged the government to balance the books and reduce debt.
"So this budget, while it's not exciting, it certainly does that," said chamber CEO Christie Ray.
Finance minister Mike de Jong tabled a budget in the legislature that predicts the province wrapping up the 2013-14 fiscal year with a $175 million surplus and another $841 million in surpluses through 2016.
His speech had a seafaring theme running through it, documenting the voyage of the "good ship British Columbia" as it navigated the turbulent economic seas of the recession. "Ports of call no longer bustled with the same sounds of endless growth and expansion," he said.
While there wasn't much in terms of spending announced, the three-year plan outlined $243 million to maintain the current service level for adults with developmental disabilities and their families, $15 million for children and youth with special needs, $15 million to cover increased RCMP policing costs and $6 million for legal aid-related services.
Over the next three years, there will be $11 billion invested in capital projects such as transportation projects, maintaining, replacing, renovating, or expanding K-12 schools and health-care infrastructure.
However, there won't be too many billboards going up locally. Funding to the city is likely going to be in the form of already announced and ongoing projects such as the Cariboo Connector and the hospital's Learning and Development Centre.
"There's a lot of capital spending that's going to be taking place in the skills training area," said Morris. "Prince George won't see any of that probably. It's going to be more in the Kamloops area and some of the other areas that have already got projects underway."
The lack of announced investments for skills training raised some eyebrows at the Chamber.
"We were of course hoping for something on that. That is something that we have indicated is an issue of importance to businesses in Prince George," Ray said. "We would have really loved to see something in the budget working towards that. As it is there were a few capacity increases in a few areas but nothing for Prince George or this region."
"Instead of a renewed investment in skills training, the budget in post-secondary education will face cuts over the next three years and skill training itself is flatlined," said NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth. "This budget is already showing signs of mismanagement."
Farnworth also called the budget out for its failure to address child poverty, not meeting its own previously stated deadlines for LNG projects and ignoring other areas of the economy such as forestry, tourism and small business.
"If this budget were an Olympic event, I don't see gold, I don't see silver, I don't even see bronze - I see a failure to even make the qualifying round," Farnworth said.
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