Finance Minister Mike de Jong shows chart of B.C. operating deficits and surpluses in recent years.

Economic growth means raises for unions

B.C. economy grew more than independent forecast, triggering pay increase next year as surplus 10 times forecast

The B.C. government exceeded its financial targets for the last fiscal year, and the economy grew enough that unions that signed on to the government’s growth sharing formula will likely see a small pay increase in 2016.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong presented the province’s audited public accounts Wednesday, with a surplus of $1.68 billion, almost 10 times the size it was forecast to be. That was due mainly to higher personal, corporate and sales tax revenue in the later part of the fiscal year that ended in March.

Gross domestic product growth came in at 2.6 per cent for the year, ahead of the finance ministry’s economic forecast council figure of 2.3 per cent. Public service union contracts signed last year included a formula to distribute half of any gain above that independent forecast, translating to a 0.15 per cent additional raise on top of negotiated increases.

De Jong said the GDP numbers must still be finalized by Statistics Canada, and the adjustment to pay levels for employees in the health, education and other public services who signed on will be made in 2016.

De Jong said he is tracking the steeply rising cost of the current forest fire season, and there is a contingency fund to cover whatever is needed. That uncertainty and international instability in Asia and Europe mean the government will not assume higher revenues will continue this year, he said.

Sales tax revenue exceeded budget forecasts by $322 million, and corporate tax revenue was up $208 million. Property transfer tax was up $128 million, and all other taxes brought in $254 million more than forecast.

Natural resource revenue decreased by $18 million from 2013-14, despite an increase in forest revenue of $35 million due to economic recovery. Less rainfall and snowpack led to a decrease of $74 million in power production.