Yesterday’s provincial budget analysis from all sides was strangely silent on an interesting piece of detail that has certainly captured the attention of public sector union workers.
The largest piece of spending in this year’s budget was a $6 billion set aside for pay increases for government workers.
In addition, a full $1 billion – more than $3000 per worker – has been ear-marked as a signing bonus for those who sign before their contracts expire.
If they can’t come to agreement, those funds go to pay down the provincial debt which is inching upward because of increased infrastructure investment costs.
Ninety percent of unionized government workers have contracts that expire at the end of March.
$6 billion may have been lost in the detail of new funding for children’s programs and skills training and apprenticeships for the booming construction sector, but you can bet your bottom dollar union leaders are trying to figure out how to spin this bonus in their favour.
Yesterday the opposition and duelling special interest group spent the day attacking this year’s budget for spending too much or spending too little or spending too late. Some decried the lack of tax cuts. Others said there was too little money for their pet causes. Others said the debt needed tackling.
The old adage certainly rings true in this case – a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy.
But interestingly there wasn’t much chatter on the commitment to increase public sector compensation.
Probably because it isn’t in the best interests of the NDP or the unions to dump on a plan that gives their members new cash in their pockets.
The business community, including the small business guys, just wants to make sure that the public sector unions aren’t going to go silly before the 2010 Games and leave a labour black mark on our hosting skills.
I wonder if three grand, plus a wage increase, will cover that?
Or is the province’s debt is going to get its own bonus as union leaders play hardball with a government riding the wave of a strong economy?
Other budget items of note include $421 million for children’s programs and services, increased grants for middle class homeowners, and $400 million to make sure that we’re training trades and other skilled workers.
The province has also increased the contingency fund to $850 million this year, ensuring that drops in commodity prices or an unexpected disaster like 2004’s fire season, don’t throw the good ship BC off course.
What are your thoughts on the budget? Post your comments.
(As seen today in 24 Hours Daily)