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The Saskatchewan government is raising prescription drug costs for children and seniors, cutting cash for urban parks and slashing an active−families tax credit.

The measures were announced Wednesday in a budget that forecasts a $434−million deficit but doesn’t increase any taxes.

The document tabled by Finance Minister Kevin Doherty shows the province expects to spend $14.5 billion in the 2016−17 fiscal year, while bringing in $14 billion.

Doherty called the gap manageable.

"I don’t like debt," he said. "But at the same time, I’m not prepared to dramatically ... reduce spending and ... put people out of work when our economy’s going through these challenging times that we think are going to be temporary."

The deficit is largely because revenue from non−renewable resources such as oil, natural gas and potash has plunged nearly $1 billion.

Non−renewable resource revenue is expected to bring in just under $1.5 billion this year — the lowest since 2003−2004.

Doherty said if lower commodity prices are the "new normal," then the government needs to look at core services it has to deliver in the years ahead.

"The short answer is that everything’s on the table — and I know that sounds cliche — but I literally mean that on both the revenue side and the expenditure side."

One of the first steps in that review has already been announced by Health Minister Dustin Duncan. A special commissioner is to be appointed to recommend options for fewer health regions and more efficient delivery of services.

Effective immediately, costs under the Children and Seniors Drug Plan increase $5 a prescription to $25. The change is expected to affect 66,600 families and 120,000 seniors.

The province is also cutting a tax credit that has been helping families with children participating in cultural, recreational and sports activities. The cut will affect 20,000 families.

"It’s one of those programs that just was not doing what it was intended to do," said Doherty.

"People just were not taking advantage of that program, primarily because they probably didn’t have the wherewithal to afford to have their kid in the program to begin with in order to claim the refundable tax credit at the end of the year."

A total of $540,000 is being slashed for five urban parks in Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Prince Albert, Battlefords and Weyburn.

The Buffalo Narrows Community Correctional Centre is to be closed and its 18 inmates moved to other facilities to save about $1 million a year.

But there’s more money for health and highways.

There’s a $20−million increase to help shorten surgery wait times, and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency is getting an extra $9.8 million to cover 15 new drugs.

The budget also includes $1.7 billion for government capital projects, with $1 billion of that financed through borrowing.

More than 1,300 kilometres of provincial highways are to be repaired or upgraded this year.

Doherty said Saskatchewan will return to a balanced budget next year.

NDP finance critic Cathy Sproule said the government squandered its savings by draining nearly $2 billion in the province’s rainy−day account.

"We’ve come through the best and sunshiniest times this province has seen in decades, if in fact ever, and yet we’re still looking at these kinds of outrageous kinds of deficits," said Sproule.

"It’s alarming."

-The Canadian Press

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