Premier Jason Kenney tried to assure municipal politicians about upcoming cuts in next month’s provincial budget Friday, saying they won’t be close to the scope of cuts made by the Ralph Klein government 26 years ago.
“We have not made final decisions, but none of you will be surprised if there is a reduction in the budget on capital funding,” Kenney said during a 40-minute address to mayors, reeves, councillors and municipal adminstrators at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention in Edmonton.
“This does not have to be 1993. It will not be like 1993.”
Like Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu on Thursday, Kenney emphasized the need for municipalities to work as a team with his government in ending Alberta’s accumulation of billions of dollars of debt and returning to balanced budgets.
Kenney told an anecdote about attending an AUMA conference in 1993, when then-municipal affairs minister Steve West announced a 25-per-cent cut to operating grants.
“That will not be the scale of this budget,” Kenney said. “Frankly, anything close to it.”
Kenney said the measures revealed in the Oct. 24 budget will be “thoughtful, prudent, focused and limited.” He said his government will protect front-line services in health and eduction.
He argued that curbing spending now will prevent a future government from having to make to make drastic 1993-style cuts five years from now.
“Please understand, folks,” Kenney said. “We cannot continue to kick this problem down the road. We cannot live forever off of our credit card.”
Kenney later explained to reporters that the measures contemplated by his government will be “objectively modest” compared to the cuts made under former premier Ralph Klein.
Kenney’s speech was preceded by NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who warned the crowd about cuts to come.
Notley pointed to a line in the MacKinnon report on Alberta’s finances — which the government plans to use as a blueprint for the budget — that said the province shouldn’t drive up debt when municipalities still have room to levy higher property taxes.
She told the room full of mayors, reeves and municipal councillors that Kenney’s government wants to shift the blame and the costs of giving corporations a tax break onto them.
“Mr. Kenney wants you to carry the political burden of filling that hole,” Notley said. “The MacKinnon report sets them up to download tax increases onto municipalities and it leaves you holding the bag.”
When asked about that line in the MacKinnon report, Kenney said his government is not calling on municipalities to raise their taxes.
He said municipal leaders understand the need for fiscal responsibility. He noted that he received a standing ovation during his speech as a sign of their support.
Kenney also announced he will be leading a trade mission to Texas in November. He said he wants to send a message to business leaders about Alberta’s lower taxes and better quality of life.