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Comparing apples and oranges

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Wednesday's provincial budget in Saskatchewan will likely become part of the debate here Under the Dome as Manitoba politicians pick apart Rosann Wowchuk's financial blueprint.

Saskatchewan, unlike all other provinces and the federal government, posted a "balanced" budget this spring -- as a fact box in today's newspaper showed.

'Why couldn't we have done the same thing here?' the opposition will likely ask.

A little closer look at Saskatchewan's numbers, however, shows that the real picture there may not be that different from our own.

Manitoba is projecting a "summary budget" deficit of $545 million for the fiscal year beginning April 1. Summary budgeting, introduced here a few years ago, takes into account core government departments as well as pension obligations and the financial health of our Crown corporations.

According to the Regina LeaderPost, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada not to state its financial status in this way. If it had used summary accounting, it would have had to post a deficit of $622.7 million for 2010-11 yesterday, instead of a $20-million surplus.

Now, that doesn't mean there is no ammunition in the Saskatchewan budget for those who want to criticize the Selinger government.

In its core government operations, Saskatchewan cut spending by $121.3 million (1.2 per cent) from what they budgeted the previous year. (However, spending is forecast to rise a smidgen -- nearly $12 million -- from Saskatchewan's latest estimates for 2009-2010.)

Manitoba, on the other hand, is boosting its spending by 5.2 per cent compared with last year's budgeted amount and 1.6 per cent compared with its latest estimates for the current year ending March 31.

On a core-government basis, Manitoba is projecting a $498-million deficit for 2010-2011.

Also of note, Saskatchewan forecasts that it will spend more than it takes in this coming year ($10.12 billion vs. $9.95 billion) and is only showing an operating surplus because it's taking $194.2 million from its rainy-day fund.

Again, according to the LeaderPost, Saskatchewan is also taking the "unprecedented step" of taking a dividend equal to 100 per cent of the profits for all the province's Crown corporations except for SaskPower.

Hmmm. Balancing the books with the help of a rainy-day fund. Raiding the Crown corporations.

Doesn't this all sound familiar?

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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