Saskatchewan ends fiscal year with $182M surplus, but well below $1B forecast

The Saskatchewan government ended the last fiscal year with a $182-million surplus, lower than the original forecast but higher than other predictions.

Increased tax revenues and a strong economy helped the province avoid a deficit, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said Thursday.

Saskatchewan initially forecasted a $1-billion surplus, but larger expenses on the agriculture sector reduced that figure, as the province had to spend more on crop insurance payouts to cover last year's drought.

Non-cash adjustments related to inflation and pensions also caused expenses to increase, Harpauer added.

"I would love the $1 billion, but we did have unexpected revenues, as well as unexpected pressures," she said at a news conference. "What we're projecting now is what would be considered more the average normal."

Before coming out with the surplus, Harpauer said she thought Saskatchewan was going to be in the red. A $482.5-million deficit was projected earlier this year.

What largely saved the balance sheet was an additional $682 million in corporate taxes, she said.

The Canada Revenue Agency "said we owe you more than what you anticipated," Harpauer said. "Investments did better in our Crown corporations. There was an improvement in liquor and gaming."

The federal government also returned $432 million to Saskatchewan for the province's industrial carbon pricing program. Some of those dollars have been promised for a technology fund to help heavy polluters reduce emissions, while the rest are meant to keep power rates low.

Without that money, Harpauer said, the province would have been in a deficit.

"It was a revenue that came in that was going to the government. It is how we account for revenues that are outstanding," Harpauer said. "The largest, unexpected revenue was the corporate income tax."

Saskatchewan's net debt is $14.5 billion, higher than originally forecasted. Total public debt is $31.6 billion.

Harpauer said Saskatchewan has the second lowest net debt-to-GDP ratio in Canada and the second highest credit rating.

The Opposition NDP slammed the Saskatchewan Party government for collecting more taxes and fees during an affordability crisis.

Premier Scott Moe "is trying to balance the budget before an election on the backs of Saskatchewan taxpayers. It's coming out of your pocket," finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said in a news release. "It's smoke and mirrors, and Saskatchewan people are picking up the tab."

Saskatchewan voters are expected to go to the polls in October.