The Government of Saskatchewan dropped the provincial budget this Wednesday, in a neat little package that’s hard to read for more reasons than its technical language. The province is sitting at a $685 million deficit. With a plan to balance the budget by 2019-2020, the government has implemented a number of changes that will impact rural Saskatchewan.
Gas tax exemption eliminated but diesel exemption remains
The Saskatchewan Party announced the elimination of the fuel tax exemption for bulk purchases of gasoline. However, permit holders can still expect an 80 per cent reduction on bulk purchases of diesel at registered bulk fuel dealers.
“Farmers use more diesel fuel on their farms, so they’ll be less concerned about the reduction on diesel fuel than if diesel fuel tax was totally eliminated,” said Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. “Because the big machines, the combines, the tractors, you know all that big equipment, they use diesel fuel. There are still some older machinery that use gasoline, but the majority would use diesel.”
“It could have been worse,” agreed Shane Jahnke, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association. “We’re still on the diesel. We’re still getting an 80 per cent exemption on it. When they did the math I think they showed a three cent per litre hike, so at the end of the day it could have been a lot worse.”
This change is expected to increase the projected fuel tax revenue by $40.2 million in total, and the fuel tax revenue itself is projected to increase from last year’s budget of $466.8 million to $515.4 million.
The fuel tax exemption program has existed since 1987. Until Wednesday permit holders (farmers, commercial fishers, trappers and loggers) could purchase 80 per cent of their gasoline tax exempt from registered bulk fuel dealers. A provincial audit from June 2016 identified the fuel tax exemption as something that the government should review, stating that the purpose of the tax exemption was not clear.
“Because it has not specifically determined what the fuel tax exemption program is designed to achieve (other than reducing taxes for eligible individuals or corporations), the Ministry does not know whether the fuel tax exemption program is successful and continues to be needed,” the auditor's report stated.
Saskatchewan Pastures Program ending
The new provincial budget also marked the end of the Saskatchewan Pastures Program. Comprised of 51 pastures totaling 785,000 acres, the Saskatchewan Pastures Program allocated portions of land to farmers who applied to the program for grazing use.
The Ministry of Agriculture stated in a press release that they are interested in hearing from the public about how the land ought to be managed. An online survey launches March 27 at www.saskatchewan.ca/pastures and is set to close May 8.
“We don’t believe that managing private cattle is a core function of government,” said Agriculture minister Lyle Stewart. “We’re going to enter into a consultation, starting right away, that will give us some insight into the ways that the pasture should be operated in the future.”
Culture and recreation hit
The Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport saw a 50 per cent reduction to the regional park fund, which will impact the province's network of locally managed small town parks.
As well, the Community Rink Affordability Grant and the Main Street Saskatchewan Program were suspended, a cut projected to save Saskatchewan $1.7 million and $550,000 respectively. Main Street Saskatchewan provided grants to revitalize rural downtowns. Recent recipients included Humboldt and Spiritwood.