On February 20, the BC provincial government released its budget for the fiscal year of 2018. The government consistently claimed that the budget works for all British Columbians, but there was little to satisfy students hoping for additional support paying for post-secondary education.
The largest investment in post-secondary education was the confirmation of the tuition waiver program for students who had been in government care. Former youth in care are now able to attend any post-secondary institution in British Columbia and have their tuition covered by the province. Of less direct importance to post-secondary students is the decision to remove fees for all Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning classes, which are courses that can be taken to complete or upgrade high school education in preparation for a college degree.
Outside of direct post-secondary investment, post-secondary students may be interested in a few other policy decisions in the budget. Many of these changes will have direct impacts on the different kinds of students who attempt to complete post-secondary degrees, and the support provided could allow many more people to pursue their studies.
Students with small children, including many mature students, will be pleased to note that more than one billion dollars is being invested over the next three years into the initial steps in creating a universal child care program. This program will provide significant subsidies for lower income families, drastically reducing the costs of providing childcare. These reductions in costs are being paired with direct spending that is projected to create twenty-two thousand more licensed childcare spaces throughout British Columbia.
It’s a commonly understood fact that housing remains one of the largest concerns for British Columbians, and that the inflated housing market found in the Metro Vancouver area is expanding to other metropolitan areas of the province. The government has chosen to expand the BC Liberals’ foreign ownership tax to Victoria, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Kelowna, and the Fraser Valley, and has increased the tax to twenty percent of the property’s sale value. This additional tax income is being used to fund investments in affordable rental housing, and to finance the construction of student housing on post-secondary campuses.
Renters will also want to note that the rental income assistance program has been given additional funding, and that rental laws are being strengthened. In particular, strata corporations are going to be allowed to impose more fines and penalties on people who break the rules in their strata complexes.
In order to pay for these new spending priorities, a number of new taxes have been created or expanded. The provincial carbon tax is set to be increased by an additional five dollars per ton, while the Medical Services Plan is being phased out in 2020 and replaced with a payroll tax paid by businesses with a payroll of more than one and a half million dollars. New taxes will also be placed on properties where the owner does not pay income tax in British Columbia, and the property transfer tax will also increase on properties valued over three million dollars. These three million-dollar properties will also be assessed at a higher school tax to help pay for education funding in the province. Cigarette prices will also be increasing due to an increase in cigarette taxes.
Recent news has been focused on the idea of dirty money being laundered through British Columbia’s casinos, and more recently through the real estate economy. The budget proposes a series of policies to help eliminate tax evasion and fraud. Key to this is the creation of a database on pre-sale condos to determine taxes are paid on initial purchases, and forcing numbered companies that do not identify their purpose to now declare who benefits from transactions made by the company.
Business groups expressed concern about the rise in taxes, particularly the payroll tax used to eliminate the medical services plan, as that was not an expected tax increase and is seen as harmful to small businesses that are also having to absorb increased labour costs due to the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15.20 an hour by 2021.
In contrast, non-profit housing and childcare organizations were pleased with the investment in rental housing and creating new childcare spaces. Both groups acknowledge that the current levels of investment do not match the election promises of the New Democrat government, but that these are good starts and represent an increase in support for their concerns.
Lost in the shuffle of the big ticket spending items in the budget were the funding made available for the preservation of Indigenous languages in British Columbia, and the support provided for women and children affected by violence. The budget allocates fifty million dollars to preserve Indigenous languages. Eighteen million dollars was pledged to provide outreach and counselling support for domestic violence victims.
Finally, the BC government projects a modest budget surplus over the next three years, with each year’s surplus being projected at two hundred to three hundred million dollars. There appeared to be universal agreement that the financial problems at ICBC and the effects of this year’s wildfire season reduced the size of the budget surplus in meaningful ways, and these increased costs have been budgeted into the next budget cycle.