B.C. deficit tops $1.1 billion

Higher than forecast, despite cutting $668 million in spending. Finance Minister says lower natural gas revenues the big factor

Finance Minister Mike de Jong

VICTORIA – The B.C. government finished the last fiscal year with a deficit of $1.15 billion, according to the audited public accounts released Tuesday.

That’s up from $968 million that was projected as the deficit last year, an indication of the difficult task facing the government to balance the budget in the current year.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the government reduced its spending $668 million in the fiscal year ended March, compared to what was budgeted. But resource revenues, mostly natural gas, were down $1.1 billion from the 2012 budget.

Health care spending was up $585 million, education spending rose $300 million and social services spending went up $50 million compared to 2011-12. Total program spending increase 2.6 per cent, higher than the target of two per cent de Jong has set for this year.

Deficits and continued spending on capital projects pushed the province’s total debt up $5.6 billion to $55.8 billion.

“We’ve seen the largest debt increase in the history of British Columbia,” NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth said. “And this is a government that ran around during the election campaign saying it’s going to be debt-free B.C.”