The B.C. government has moved to give itself room for up to three years of budget deficits, with $5 billion in extra spending already committed for the current year to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finance Minister Carole James introduced legislation June 24 that authorizes deficit spending that is a certainty for the current fiscal year and likely to extend further, with relief payments, rent supplements and deferred sales and other tax payments throwing the province’s budget deep into the red.
The legislation makes official a $1,000 one-time, tax-free payment to those who have lost work due to COVID-19 restrictions and qualified for employment insurance. It also extends eligibility to those who filed federal employment insurance claims between March 1 and March 15. Almost 600,000 B.C. residents have been approved for the B.C. payment since applications opened in May.
There is no change to the existing provision that running a deficit in any B.C. government ministry results in a pay cut of 10 per cent for the minister involved. That means James and the rest of cabinet will see a reduction in their salaries, which are currently $166,536.29 per year.
Basic compensation for MLAs is currently $111,024.19, with a 50 per cent premium for serving in cabinet or as Speaker. Premier John Horgan gets a 90 per cent premium on basic pay, bringing his current salary to $210,945.96.
The new legislation, called the Economic Stabilization Act, formalizes moves the government has made since the pandemic began, including postponing commercial property tax payments until Oct. 1. Filing and paying employer health tax, provincial sales tax, hotel tax, carbon tax, motor fuel tax and tobacco tax has also been deferred to Sept. 30.