Jason Hale, Strathmore-Brooks MLA, held open houses throughout Wheatland County last week, fielding concerns and gathering issues to present to the Alberta Government that opens on March 4, 2013.
Strathmore was the last stop on the tour, and Hale opened up on Conservative spending habits at the Feb. 25 visit.
“We don’t have a revenue problem,” said Hale. “We have a spending problem.”
In response, the Wildrose party developed a10-year debt free capital spending plan, to provide infrastructure and programs without incurring huge debt. Alberta currently spends over a third more per person than any other province on infrastructure, and has used up a $17 billion sustainability fund.
Wildrose wants to create a sustainability fund that would generate $48 billion, issued evenly over a 10 year duration. The plan would prioritize projects, under predefined publically disclosed categories of: Provincial transportation networks, schools, Health Care, equipment, and other Government facilities.
The funds would be supplied by taking 10 per cent of provincial tax revenue and 10 per cent of tax surpluses and giving it directly to municipalities. Money would not be obtained by grant process, but by a program called Community Infrastructure Transfer. By generating and releasing funds in this way, communities could plan for education and infrastructure needs over a period of time, rather than adjusting to a boom or bust economic budget. It includes a plan to deliver $638 million on health facilities in 2013-14 and over $7.6 billion on such projects over the next decade.
Hale said Wildrose supports municipal charters, which would supply funds directly to municipal governments. However, audience members asked whether all the money would go to urban centres, leaving rural needs unmet. Hale responded that rural municipalities would not be getting any less than they currently do under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative. With the surplus grant, money would increase by 10 per cent. The process would be monitored to ensure adequate funding for rural municipalities stay in place.
Hale said the Wildrose Party examined all the ways the Conservatives have been wasting money. The party called for a referendum to roll back the MLA pay raises, rather than making budget cuts to public services, however the proposal was voted down by the Conservative majority.
“How can you force these cuts when you just gave yourself a raise,” said Hale about MLA’s enjoying increases in their salaries.
Wildrose will continue to fight for wage roll backs and encourage the development of a wage increase policy based on the yearly inflation rate. Hale said Alberta Health Services board executives spent $100 million on expense account expenditures in a short 17 months.
“That would go a long way to improving front line health care in the province,” Hale said.
He likened the expense account program to a funnel that was tipped upside down, with huge amounts going in the top and little trickling out to the necessary services below. Hale said Wildrose wants to turn that funnel over.
The audience gave a resounding shout of ‘no’, when asked if they wanted a sales tax for Alberta. One listener said that this was Alberta and that having no sales tax is what makes Alberta stand out.
Other issues such as education and programs for rural areas, dealing with the CN, keeping the Wheatland ambulance, gaining grandparents access to children involved in custody battles, pharmacy cutbacks, and seniors and low income support were discussed.
“We need to find a balance to inform the people about what is going on and be active in the checks and balances,” said Hale. “We are the party in waiting, so we need to come up with good ideas, so I encourage you to give us your input.”