The Conservative government continued its big spending Tuesday, digging deep in its pockets to eliminate health care premiums and boost its spending by more than nine per cent in 2008, the latest budget reveals.

Operating spending will increase to about $38.6 billion next year, the 2008 budget shows, but none of that funding will be dedicated to new Capital region projects.

The government said it will also eliminate health care premiums on Jan. 1, 2009, saving Albertans an estimated $1 billion in payments.

Currently, individuals pay $528 a year in premiums, while the cost to a family is $1,056 annually. However, the largest benefactor of the change is believed to be Alberta's large corporations, which pick up the tab for its workers.

"The savings in this year's budget is probably best described as being in the pockets of Albertans," Finance Minister Iris Evans said in her speech.

Only B.C. and Ontario collect similiar health premiums.

The Tories posted an estimated $1.6 billion budget surplus. This is the government's 15th consecutive balanced budget.

Finance Minister Iris Evans introduced the new budget Tuesday, saying the government's focus is to match its spending with Alberta's increase in needs due to the population boom.

"(The budget) reflects the growth in population and inflation in Alberta last year," she said. "As people keep coming to Alberta, the demand for services and the costs of providing those services continues to rise."

The Canadian Press outlined the following highlights:

  • Alberta Employment Tax Credit increases 10 per cent in July, saving a middle-income family with two kids $316 a year
  • Up to a $1,000 increase in tax benefits for disabled Albertans or those caring for the disabled
  • $468 million added to crime fighting over three years, including cash to hire 300 more police officers
  • $500,000 towards 11,000 new affordable housing spaces and to hlep fund shelters
  • 14,000 new child-care spaces to be set-up
  • Money to train doctors and accommodate more post-secondary students

The government estimates they will receive $38.6 billion in revenue in 2008 to 2009, an increase of $814 million from the previous year.

Perhaps the biggest winner in the budget was the health care sector. The Tories' plan includes $22.2 billion over three years to build health facilities, schools, roads and other infrastructure

An Earth Day spending spree

Budget 2008 also gave big money to the energy sector. Alberta will invest an additional $91 million towards the industry, bringing its total expenditure in the sector to $403 million.

The funding will go towards the new royalty framework and the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

The Alberta Utilities Commission will also see its funding doubled in the next year to $32 million.

The NDP blasted the Tories for their projections on oil prices, saying the government is hiding huge revenues.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said while oil prices near $120 per barrel, the Conservatives are basing its budget on an oil price of $78.

"They are misstating the revenues by over 5 billion dollars," he said. "They do this because they don't want to be accountable for long term financial planning."

The Tories also pledged more money towards environment initiatives, including $574 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over three years.

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said $37 billion in spending is too much.

"They're spending without a plan, they're not building up the Heritage Fund, we're going to be in a terrible place in the future," he said.