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Deficit budget gets high marks from universities, student groups

By Fabian Mayer, April 13 2016 —

Student groups and universities both applauded the NDP government’s budget on Thursday after their lobbying demands were met.

Opposition parties, however, decried the budget as irresponsible. A decrease in revenue from the oil and gas industry and increased spending means the province is projected to run a $10.4-billion deficit. Finance minister Joe Ceci hopes for a return to balanced books by 2024.

Large-ticket spending items included a job creation plan, infrastructure spending and a small business tax cut from three to two per cent.

The budget included a two per cent annual increase to the government’s post-secondary grants. Council of Alberta University Students chair Romy Garrido is happy the sector isn’t facing cuts given the difficult economic situation in the province.

“We’re happy to see some stability and happy to see the government is following through on its promises,” Garrido said. “Instead of seeing cuts we’re actually seeing some protection.”

With a government-mandated tuition freeze in place until 2017, student groups focused their lobbying efforts on getting soon-to-expire student mental health funding renewed.

These efforts seem to have partially paid-off, as funding was renewed for one year. Though it isn’t an explicit line in the budget, Garrido said the University of Calgary will get $900,000 in mental health funding next year. Other institutions are receiving varying amounts depending on their size.

“I guess they renewed it so they could figure out a better long-term solution as they couldn’t do that with the budget coming up so quickly,” Garrido said.

U of C president Elizabeth Cannon was happy with the increased grants, as well as the additional money set aside to compensate the institution for lost revenue from when the government froze tuition and reversed market modifier tuition increases in the summer of 2015.

“It allows students to have maintained lower tuition but allows us to ensure we have the funds we need to continue to deliver on our programs,” she said.

Cannon, however, was worried about the size of the deficit and the decrease in funding for innovation initiatives.

“I think it’s a concern for all Albertans,” Cannon said. “It is significant budget deficit, one that is going to take a lot of creativity and diversification to deal with over time. We feel that the U of C is well positioned to be able to contribute to having a stronger Alberta in the long term.”

Alberta’s total debt is estimated to reach $57.6 billion by 2019.

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