The Stelmach government released its provincial budget yesterday, which includes a $4.7-billion deficit, the first in 16 years, and the largest in Alberta’s history.

Despite the grim reality facing officials, Finance Minister Iris Evans delivered the news with optimism yesterday.

“In terms of the global recession, we’re riding uncertainty on a tidal wave, and we’re in the best boat possible,” she told reporters.

Rather than borrowing from banks and accruing interest, over $2 billion will be drawn from the “rainy day” sustainability fund to ease the burden.

“I don’t think anyone celebrates having to spend dollars they’d saved for a rainy day, but we’re fortunate to be able to do that in a situation with lower energy revenues and lower anticipated tax revenues,” Evans said. “If we had just cut the budget, Alberta would be in huge turmoil.”

While Evans and Treasury Board president Lloyd Snelgrove wouldn’t define how an additional $2.2 billion will be raised, the minister suggested personal taxes wouldn’t be subject to increase, though “no stone will be left unturned.”

“There are no plans for tax increases; I don’t have any attitude toward tax increases whatsoever,” Evans said.

“If you raise tax revenues, you don’t stimulate the economy.”

A commitment to keep Albertans employed was bolstered with plans to enhance infrastructure — spending more than two times any other province in the year ahead.

Snelgrove touted the plan as the “most elaborate of any province,” though plans were drafted before the economic downturn.

In total, about $10,000 is owed for every person living in Alberta.

Officials anticipate pulling out of the red by 2011-12.

Though the oil and gas industry was touted as the province’s biggest cash cow, plans to stimulate immature industries like livestock and nanotechnology are forecast.

“Not having a crystal ball, I can’t tell how long it will take to recoup,” Evans said.

Deficit spending
• $23.2 billion over the next three years to build health facilities, schools and roads, carbon capture and storage and GreenTRIP (Green Transit Incentives Program). Operating expenses will rise by 3.7 per cent, or $1.1 billion.

• A 3.7 per cent increase in operating spending to address population growth and inflation.

• Health, education, advanced education, seniors and children services account for 75 per cent of the operating increase.

• “Sin tax” tobacco tax increases ($3 per carton) and a liquor markup — the first tax increase of its kind in six years.

• Forecast $36.4 billion in spending in 2009-10, and $31.7 billion in revenue.

• Unemployment forecast to average 5.8 per cent in 2009, and 6.5 per cent in 2010, before coming down in 2011.

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