VICTORIA -- Your reaction to Finance Minister Mel Couvelier's 1988-89 budget will depend to some degree on the vices in which you indulge.
If you're a smoker, you'll probably get mad. Ditto, if your recreational activities include the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
But even if you live a clean and healthy life, you will have ample reason to place Couvelier on your private most-wanted list.
Contributors to the Medical Services Plan, which includes all of us, will have their pockets picked by the finance minister.
If, on the other hand, you are a small businessman or woman, you'll have reason for mild enthusiasm, while alternative health care practitioners will be very satisfied.
Enthusiastic supporters of the budget will include committed Socreds and those who believe that the deficit must be reduced at any cost. Among the bitter opponents you will find committed NDP supporters, trade unions and doctors.
How will the budget affect the average family? According to the B.C. Institute of Chartered Accountants, a family of four with one smoker and social-drinking habits will have to fork out an additional $267 a year to finance this budget.
Those who believe that politicians are a sneaky lot will have their suspicions confirmed. The government is squirrelling away $450 million that could be used right now to balance the budget.
Instead, it will go into a special fund, presumably to be used at a politically more opportune time.
Now for the details. Total provincial spending is expected to be $11.8 billion during the 1988-89 fiscal year. Total revenue is expected to be $11.4 billion. The anticipated operating deficit is $395 million, compared with $800 million during the last fiscal year. An impressive reduction in the deficit, but sorry, no balanced budget yet.
The largest spender will, once again, be the health ministry. A total of $3.9 billion, one-third of all government spending, will go towards health care.
To put the brakes on spiralling health care costs, the government will place more emphasis on preventive health care and put the squeeze on doctors' fees.
Couvelier stresses the government's commitment to the continued use of chiropractors, podiatrists, physiotherapists, orthodontists, massage practitioners and naturopaths under its Medical Services Plan. The emphasis of the health care system, he says, will shift from "the merits of sustaining wellness rather than paying for sickness."
Here are some of the measures that will affect the pocket book of the average British Columbian. Sales tax on alcoholic beverages will be increased from six to 10 per cent. That will include draught beer.
Motor fuel tax will go up by 1 cent a litre. Tobacco tax will go up by 9 cents for a package of 25 cigarettes. Medical Services Plan premiums will go up to $29 a month for single subscribers, $52 for a family of two and $58 for a family of three or more.
Those figures are up by $9, $15 and $16 respectively. Trying to pre-empt any criticism, Couvelier points out that the new fees are still lower than those in Ontario. He also stresses that more people will be eligible for premium subsidies.
Rural property taxes will be increased for both homeowners and businesses. The average increase for homeowners will be $39 a year. Tax on car insurance premiums will go up from three to four per cent.
Of significance is the establishment of two new funds, meant to stabilize government spending and reduce the $6 billion debt load we've racked up with deficit financing in the past few years. The Budget Stabilization Fund with an initial injection of $450 million is to "absorb fiscal shocks." When revenues are good, money will be transferred into the fund and when things turn sour, money will be taken out of the fund and put into general revenue.
That money would have been more than enough to wipe out this fiscal year's anticipated deficit and produce a balanced budget, but why do it two years before the next election, eh? "Our objective will be to avoid borrowing or cutting back social programs," Couvelier says.
The second fund will be known as the Privatization Benefits Fund. Any revenue derived from the privatization of government operations will go into that fund and will initially be used to reduce the accumulated deficit. When that's paid off, the fund will be used to bolster general revenue.
To support the small business sector, the government will provide loan guarantees of up to 75 per cent of individual loans of up to $50,000 made to small businesses by financial institutions.
At first glance, the budget is not an exciting one. It's a very conservative document that places emphasis on frugality and sound fiscal management, two ingredients the government believes it
badly needs after the array of mega project fiascoes of the previous Socred administration. The budget's weakest spot is the drastic increase in medical services premiums, but even the critics of the government will have to admit that without substantial premium increases, the whole health care system might have run into serious problems in the near future.
The ever increasing number of senior citizens will place unprecedented pressure on the system in the coming years, and without proper funding, there could easily be no system at all.