Provincial Finance Minister Wes Sheridan addresses the membership of the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, one day after delivering this year's budget. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
Summerside chamber of commerce cautiously optimistic about Sheridan's fiscal plan
SUMMERSIDE - The Summerside business community got its chance Wednesday to hear about the latest provincial budget straight from the source.
Finance Minister Wes Sheridan was in town to address the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce and give some of the highlights of the 2014 budget, which was released Tuesday.
Jonathan Greenan, president of the chamber, said there hasn't been time for him to receive much feedback from the membership on the budget, but what little he has been hearing is mostly positive, especially on the tax front.
"We're certainly happy to see that the taxes have remained level this year, and encouraged to see that revenues look to be growing and on track for a balance next year," said Greenan.
Sheridan didn't have much new information to offer the chamber, he mostly reviewed the points that were presented on Tuesday.
His main theme continued to be that 2016 is on track to be the first surplus budget in eight years. This year's deficit is set to come in at $39.7 million.
"There's not a whole lot of bells and whistles in this one, we have to be able to get back to balance," said Sheridan.
P.E.I.'s economy has suffered a lot since the recession hit six years ago, he added, but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.
The province generally held the line in terms of spending this year and what few increases there were are roughly on par with inflation.
Most of the new programs that were announced were mostly partnerships with private enterprise.
For example: to help Islanders referred off-Island for medical appointments and surgeries, the province has entered into a partnership with Maritime Bus to provide financial assistance for patients' bus transportation to their health-care destination, a partnership with Island optometrists will also allow for free eye exams for Island kindergarteners, and a partnership with the Red Cross will offer health equipment loans.
Greenan said he's encouraged by that greater willingness from the province to work with the private sector.
He's especially looking forward to an initiative Sheridan announced that would see round table discussions between the province and the private sector regarding red tape reduction.
"We have nothing against regulation, some regulation is necessary to ensure that the system works," he said.
"But it's important for every government to take a look at their processes and see if they are serving a valid purpose that justifies the extra onuses placed on businesses."
The Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce had its policy committee sit down and pour through Tuesday's budget. Their likes and dislikes were provided to the membership during Wednesday's breakfast with Finance Minister Wes Sheridan.
The list was presented as follows:
· No tax increases.
· Plan to reduce deficit from $51.9 million to $39.7 million in 2014 is on track.
· Island economy expanded by 1.5 per cent in 2013 and expected to expand at a similar pace in 2014.
· An employment level of 75,000 and raising the value of the economy to $6 billion by 2016.
· Increase to the maximum loan available under the Entrepreneur Loan Program from $50,000 to $100,000.
· To address red tape, sector roundtables will be initiated to identify government regulations and processes.
· An increase of $2.5 million to Innovation P.E.I. for development of business.
· The partnership with aerospace companies, Holland College and Skills P.E.I. to ensure skilled workers are available.
· The Student Graduation and Transition Planner.
Areas of Concern:
· No initiatives to combat expected decrease in capital expenditures on residential and non-residential investments.
· Lack of specific, long-term sustainable job creation initiatives for this area.
· Lack of spending to address significant outmigration and downward trend in immigration.
· Lack of strategies to retain Island students in our post-secondary institutions.
· No allocations for attracting Islanders back to the Island to fill skilled labour gaps.