With natural gas prices continuing to fall, Alberta's energy boom has come to an end. The immediate result is a growing deficit that has no immediate relief in sight. The latest forecast, revised from earlier predictions this year, indicate a record $7 billion deficit by year's end. Some economists believe that continuing weak gas prices will send the deficit above the $8 billion mark. This dour prediction is based on the assumption that the province is being overly optimistic about tax revenues. It is widely believed among economists that corporate taxes will fall well below figures recently published by the province's Progressive Conservative government.
Alberta's Finance Minister Iris Evans has issued orders to provincial offices to trim $430 million from provincial programs. The government itself is seeking to trim $2 billion from next year's budget.
The province's premier Ed Stelmach warned that the deficit is likely to remain in place for at least two years following the recession. However, he also announced that the deficit will be offset by $17 billion in emergency savings in the provincial Sustainability Fund. This amount will likely deplete the fund. However, it will enable the Premier to not implement any tax increases nor will the province have to cut jobs. The weakened economy has already contributed to a predicted jobless rate of 22,000 this year. Adding to the gloomy outlook is a forecast of negative 2.5 percent growth for the current year.
Despite a sorry economic forecast, the province is pleased to note that its population is continuing to grow. Economic hardships in other regions of the nation have caused a migration to Alberta. The premier announced that his province's population is expected to grow by 50,000 residents this year.
On the positive side, the provincial Heritage Savings Trust Fund suffered a $3 billion beating when the stock markets plunged. Recently, though, the Fund has shown a $1 billion recovery, allowing the province to transfer $730 million from the Fund's profits to the province's general revenues.
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