Alberta says last year's budget surplus bigger than expected

Tue Jun 30, 2015 5:22pm EDT
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CALGARY, Alberta, June 30 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Alberta said on Tuesday its budget surplus for the last fiscal year was nearly C$350 million ($280.2 million) bigger than forecast even though oil prices plunged in the second half of the year.

Alberta, whose oil sands are the largest source of U.S. oil imports, posted a surplus of C$1.4 billion for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which ended on March 31. That was C$348 million more than it had expected.

The increase came as the province's revenue, about a fifth of which comes from the oil and gas industry, was almost C$1 billion more than forecast as oil prices rose as high as $107 per barrel in June before collapsing to less than $47 by the end of March.

That collapse led Alberta's government to project a budget deficit of close to C$5 billion for the current fiscal year.

"(The surplus) is a positive thing of course," Joe Ceci, the province's finance minister, told a news conference. "But going forward the economy today is very different."

The surplus was the last for the province's Progressive Conservative government, which ruled the province for nearly 44 years before it lost to the left-leaning New Democrats in May's election.

The new government intends to wait until the autumn to introduce a budget for the current fiscal year, but has already announced corporate and personal tax increases to replace some of the revenue lost to lower oil prices.

($1=$1.25 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Peter Galloway)