Who likes the new Yukon budget? Lots of people, but only sort of

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Who likes the new Yukon budget? Lots of people, but only sort of

The Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and the Yukon Chamber of Mines often disagree, but not, apparently, when it comes to assessing the latest territorial budget.

The Liberals' first budget, they agree, is not too bad, and not too great.

"Maybe a balance has been struck! We'll see," laughed Samson Hartland of the Chamber of Mines.

- Yukon Liberals' first budget delivers $6.5M surplus, but predicts deficits to come 

Hartland says he's "cautiously optimistic" about the budget, seeing some things in it he likes and supports, but also wishing for more. 

Lewis Rifkind of the YCS, meanwhile, calls the budget "tepid" and "neutral" — at least from an environmental perspective.

"There's nothing that seems to raise alarm bells, but once again, there's nothing that we would enthusiastically cheer about," Rifkind said.

"Maybe, their first year in office they're going to just play it cautious. Which is kind of interesting, because normally governments try to get their bold and brave decisions out of the way in the first year."

Rifkind says one thing he wanted to see was a change in the royalty rate on placer mining. It was set a century ago, at 37.5 cents per ounce of gold and hasn't been changed since. Rifkind thinks Yukon is losing out.

"It is time to get a decent rate of return on the royalties that we get from resource extraction. We can't just keep giving this stuff away," he said.

The good news, Rifkind said, is that YCS can raise the issue with the new Financial Advisory Panel. Premier Sandy Silver announced the panel on Thursday, along with the budget. The panel will consult with Yukoners to come up with recommendations for future budgets and planning.

Focus on mining infrastructure, chamber says 

"Definitely a step in the right direction," Hartland said, about the new financial advisory panel. He hopes the panel will help sharpen the government's focus on long term infrastructure needs — something lacking in the latest budget, he says.

"The [Goldcorp] Coffee Gold project is potentially Yukon's next gold mine, amongst others like Victoria Gold['s] Eagle Gold project. Both of those require infrastructure investments, either in the way of development of roads, or the improvement and reliability and provision of power," Hartland said. 

He applauds the government, though, for reducing the general corporate tax rate — from 15 per cent to 12 per cent, starting in July.

"We know the mining industry deals with higher capital and operating costs when operating in Canada's North," Hartland said.

"A reduction in the corporate taxes is a welcome relief that helps somewhat create a little more of a level playing field."

'Benefit of the doubt'

Peter Turner of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce is also giving the new government high marks for lowering business taxes. He's even willing to give the Liberals a bit of leeway for a broken promise to reduce the small business tax to zero this year (instead it will go from three per cent to two per cent, starting in July, with the government then assessing the impact before further cuts).

"We recognize that the reason they haven't taken it all the way to zero is because they're concerned about being fiscally prudent," Turner said.

"But we do encourage the government to live up to its commitments to the business community."

The chamber even issued a report card on the budget on Friday, grading the Liberals on taxation, infrastructure investments, housing, and balancing the budget.

The marks ranged from B– to A–, with an overall grade of B+.

"We're giving them a little bit the benefit of the doubt, because they're a new government," Turner said.

High marks were given for balancing this year's budget (the government predicts a $6.5 million surplus), and for including a longer range outlook.

The outlook, which predicts deficits starting next year is "disheartening", the report card says, but the projections are a useful "tool to manage towards balanced budgets in the coming years."

The chamber also likes the near-record high capital budget this year — $309 million to be spread among many departments and projects.

"This has tremendous potential for Yukon businesses and workers, provided they can participate in the jobs and the contracts. So we'll be watching the whole procurement process very carefully," Turner said.