UPDATE 1-Canada's Alberta to post C$10.4 bln deficit as oil price slump bites

Thu Apr 14, 2016 6:31pm EDT
 
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(Adds opposition party reaction, bond market reaction)

By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta, April 14 (Reuters) - The Canadian crude-producing province of Alberta said on Thursday it will post a C$10.4 billion ($8.10 billion) budget deficit this fiscal year and warned that a surplus might not return until 2024 as the oil price slump batters its economy.

Alberta, home to Canada's oil sands and the No. 1 exporter of crude to the United States, has been hammered by a plunge in prices to around $40 a barrel from $105 in mid-2014.

The New Democratic Party government, which swept to victory last May, had said it was prepared to tolerate deficits, and Finance Minister Joe Ceci reiterated it would protect public services.

"The first option is to slash and burn vital programs that Alberta families count on, and that's the wrong path," Ceci said. "Instead we will carefully maintain spending, ensuring we are spending every tax dollar wisely while helping Albertans weather this storm."

Alberta will borrow heavily to fund its fiscal plan, with total debt hitting C$57.6 billion by 2018-19, or 15.5 percent of nominal GDP. As a result, the government will scrap legislation introduced last year to limit debt-to-GDP to 15 percent.

Ceci pledged to keep funding stable for health, education and social services but save C$600 million in operating expenses over the next two years through measures including a freeze on managerial salaries and merging or dissolving 26 government agencies.

The government will invest C$34 billion in a five-year infrastructure plan on projects including roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and spend C$250 million over two years to support job creators.   Continued...