Headlines: March 1, 2024

· The Pulse
  • The UCP government released its proposed 2024 provincial budget, which promises to increase spending on health care and education and forecasts a $367-million surplus for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which is the smallest surplus since 2022. The province plans to spend $73.2 billion in 2024-25, $3 billion more than what was projected last February, and is expecting $73.5 billion in revenue, $2.1 billion less than what was forecast in last year's third quarter. Officials say the province is in a negative cash position, and it will need to borrow $2.4 billion to balance the budget. Of the projected $5.2- billion surplus from the 2023-24 fiscal year, $3.2 billion will go to repaying debt and $2 billion will go to the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. The budget does not include income tax breaks promised by the UCP, but the party says those are coming in 2026 and 2027.
  • The 2024 provincial budget commitments to Edmonton include money for police, infrastructure, post-secondary education, and health. The budget would fund 100 new street-level police in Edmonton and Calgary, fighting gun and gang violence, upgrading correctional facilities, and adding "hundreds" of shelter spaces in Edmonton. Major infrastructure investments include upgrades to Yellowhead Trail, Terwillegar Drive, Ray Gibbon Drive, and LRT projects, along with funding for MacEwan University, NAIT, the University of Alberta Hospital, and several health clinics. The budget also puts $20 million over three years toward a new standalone Stollery Children's Hospital, but the province has paused plans for a South Edmonton Hospital. In a release, Alberta Municipalities said it is "extremely discouraged" by the proposed budget, noting money allocated to municipalities through the Local Government Fiscal Framework is "far short of what is needed" to address infrastructure needs.
  • CBC published an explainer on how the proposed 2024 provincial budget might impact an average Albertan's finances. Aside from lacking a promised income tax cut, the budget would introduce a levy for land titles registration that may affect home buyers, an annual $200 tax on electric vehicles, and higher taxes on cigarettes and vaping products. As part of the "Alberta is Calling" campaign, the province also plans to offer tax credits to people from other provinces who relocate to work in eligible occupations.
  • The Katz Group is requesting a rezoning that would allow it to keep using two vacant plots of land north of Rogers Place as gravel parking lots for up to five more years. It's the group's second request for an extension, though using the vacant lots for parking was intended to be temporary. A previous council's decision in 2016 to allow the Katz Group to use the lots attracted controversy, but administration now supports the plots being used for parking until Katz Group can redevelop them as part of Village at ICE District. Council will vote on Match 11 whether to grant the extension.
  • The City of Edmonton's 2023 financial results show a tax-supported operating deficit of $48.2 million, which is 1.8% of the $3-billion operating budget. The deficit is driven by higher than expected arbitrated salary settlements, lower franchise fees, and other "unique pressures" such as low transit fares, said chief financial officer Stacey Padbury. Council will review the 2023 capital and operating finances and receive an update on the spring operating budget adjustment process on March 12 and 13.
  • Council's urban planning committee learned that the City of Edmonton won't be allowed to impose stricter rules around energy performance in building codes than what is permitted by the province. Introducing regulations requiring more energy-efficient buildings is proposed in the city's community energy transition strategy, approved in 2021. Staff will return in June with ideas for incentives or subsidies to encourage greener construction.
  • The Edmonton Social Planning Council released its annual Alberta Child Poverty Report for 2023, which is intended to inform policy, advocacy, and decision-making. Data from 2021 shows nearly one in six children in the province were living in poverty. Alberta does not have a poverty reduction strategy, the report notes.
  • The provincial government's contracts with nearly 248,000 Alberta public sector workers are set to expire in 2024, and observers say there is a potential for widespread service disruption and labour disputes this year. The province's opening offer to all unions so far is a four-year contract with 2% raises in 2024 and 2025 and 1.75% raises in 2026 and 2027. Some unions, however, including United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, have made proposals that include higher wage increases. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan suggested the province is "sleepwalking into a massive strike."
  • The 2024-25 provincial budget proposes giving health services an operating budget of $26.2 billion, $1.1 billion more than the current fiscal year and 4.4% higher than what was projected. The budget also reveals that the projected cost of the UCP's plan to restructure Alberta Health Services, referred to as "Health Care Entities (formerly Alberta Health Services)," is $85 million over two years.