'Status quo' or 'encouraging'? Interest groups react to P.E.I. budget

When Leonard Gallant opened P.E.I.'s 2019-20 budget, he was on the lookout for one thing — increases in public spending.

Gallant, the president of CUPE P.E.I. (Canadian Union of Public Employees), is one of a number of Islanders who pored through the budget, looking to see how their interests might be affected.

Gallant's verdict was fairly straightforward. 

"It's kind of a status quo budget," he said.

He's pleased to see more spending on education, including hiring 74 new front-line staff. But he would have liked to see more spending on health care.

Special interest groups on P.E.I. had a range of reaction to the budget — some focusing on progress while others took note of what was missing. 

Basic personal tax amount

When Premier Dennis King said earlier this month that his government planned to reduce the small business tax rate by 0.5 per cent — rather than the PC election promise of 2.5 per cent — the Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce voiced its disappointment

Sarah MacMillan/CBC

While she would have liked to see more of a tax cut, CEO Penny Walsh-McGuire said she did see some positives in the budget — including the projected surplus as well as the increase to the basic personal amount income tax credit.

Islanders can now earn $10,000 before they start paying taxes, up from $9,160.

"If you don't have a strong workforce, you don't have a strong economy," Walsh-McGuire said. "We need to continue to support our employees, which in turn supports business, and particularly small business in our community. 

"In terms of levers to help lower income workers, we feel the basic personal amount is one of those important levers that is something the government can move on and we were pleased to see that happen today."

Walsh-McGuire said the chamber will continue to advocate for further increases to the basic personal amount. 

Should be larger surplus, says taxpayers group

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was also happy to see that change and the decrease to small business tax rates.

Laura Meader/CBC

But the organization would have liked to see broader tax reform, saying lowering taxes could attract more people to the province. 

Atlantic director Paige MacPherson also said she's concerned that the size of the projected surplus is smaller this year. She believes the government could have made spending cuts to increase the surplus. 

"If we've got this strong economic growth, we shouldn't have the surplus being fettered away on new spending items," MacPherson said. "We should be able to be in a really good healthy position to not be pushed back into deficit and not have the debt increasing." 

'Encouraging things' 

Jane Ledwell with the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women looked through the budget with a focus on women, caregivers and families. 

Sarah MacMillan/CBC

Ledwell said she saw "some really encouraging things."

In particular, she said she's pleased about investments in early childhood education, investment in midwifery and the promise of a second children's lawyer. 

"There are a lot of details yet to come, and we will be looking at whether these are small steps or larger steps," Ledwell said. "But I think there is some hopeful things."  

"It is really exciting to see the language shifting to poverty elimination. Because whatever challenges women, caregivers, families are facing, they are exacerbated when people are living in low income and can't meet their basic needs."

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