The deficit is down but expenses are up in the mid-year financial report released Thursday by the province.
The Saskatchewan Government said the predicted deficit is $348.3 million, which is $17 million lower than what was initially projected at budget time last spring.
The province credits the improvement in the financial picture to higher than expected resource revenue and an increase in net income from government enterprises.
“This budget is very on track because we had seven relatively strong months where our revenues were higher than what we budgeted for,” said Harpauer.
Potash royalties are forecast to increase $126.8 million from budget, mostly due to higher prices.
Oil and natural gas revenues were also higher than budgeted. The benchmark price for oil was projected at $58.18 on budget day. The mid-year projection is increased to $65.23 after prices averaged higher through the end of October.
While Harpauer said the province is on course, she added there is still work to do, shifting away from a reliance on volatile resource revenue while keeping the economy strong.
“We’re going to definitely continue to be very mindful of our spending to ensure that we can keep a sustainable, balanced budget,” said Harpauer.
Looking ahead to the spring budget, the finance minister said to expect something similar to the previous budget, hopefully with no dramatic measures needed.
“The economy had picked up and it backfilled what we needed and it was a boring budget and I think I like that,” said Harpauer.
Government spending is expected to be up by $121.1 million with nearly half of that increase going into pensions.
Expenses were also up for health services, child and family services and fighting forest fires.
Government business enterprises are now forecasting lower debt, which brings overall provincial debt to about $19.7 billion by March 2019. That’s $251.6 million less than what the province planned for in the last budget.
Harpauer said most of that public debt is due to infrastructure for Crown corporations or funding for the Saskatchewan Builds Capital Plan.
“Our infrastructure needs are significant and support a growing economy,” Harpauer said.
Overall, the province is calling the financial outlook an improvement, supporting the government’s plan to balance the books.
NDP leader criticizes spending
Some of the latest financial numbers are concerning to NDP leader Ryan Meili.
“One of the things that really was striking was the increase in spending, more than planned,” he said.
The provincial expense is forecast to be $14.7 billion, up by $121.1 million from budget or 0.8 per cent. Almost half of that increase is a non-cash increase in pension expense.
Meili said the government is spending too much on things like the Regina Bypass, the Global Transportation Hub and carbon capture.
He’s also concerned about a growing debt, which is projected at $19.7 billion. While it’s down by $251.6 million from budget, it’s up by $18.2 billion from the 2017-18 budget.