Whoa! Is Alberta broke?
Serious question, folks.
Alberta’s universities and technical schools are reeling at the apparently unexpected news that they face spending cuts of five-per-cent or more in 2010 because of the Feb. 9 provincial budget.
In the budget, the province fought the political fire that was breaking out all over in health care by diverting cash from other ministries, including education. Now that it’s starting to sink in that this will result in cuts to staff, cuts to faculty, cuts to places for students, cuts to financial support for students and cuts to educational opportunities in Alberta, people are starting to scream.
Who knows, given a little time, maybe this one will build up as much steam as health care did before Feb. 9? After all, a $20-million cut (on top of another $20-million cut) at the University of Alberta is not chickenfeed. Those of us who have children at the U of A are entitled to be worried, and should be. Of course, the Stelmach government is counting on fewer Albertans having a relative in a post-secondary educational institution than in a hospital.
Doug Horner, the minister of advanced education and deputy premier, sounded just like Ralph Klein as he defended these crippling cuts in post-secondary education funding. Alert readers will recall that Mr. Klein’s approach to reasoned policy reform was to throw the entire deck into the air and see where all the cards landed. As far as he was concerned, future generations could pick the cards up and figure out where to put them.
So here’s Mr. Horner in this morning’s Edmonton Journal explaining how the universities and colleges should sort out their funding shortfall: “Can we do 10 per cent more … with the same dollars? Now is the time we need to start talking about that?”
Uh, no, one would have thought the time to have started talking about it was when the cuts were planned. But then, in fairness to Mr. Horner, they were probably scratched out on a napkin at Martini’s a night or two before the budget went to press. (As the Tories said of the recession, who could have known?)
Then Mr. Horner went on to observe, in the words of the Journal reporter, that “some institutions, such as the University of California’s Berkeley campus, are getting 25-per-cent cuts.”
Berkley? In case you missed it, California is broke. The world’s eighth largest economy is on life support, paying its remaining public employees in IOUs instead of U.S. currency, characterized by the New York Times as “the new Mississippi,” and teetering on the brink of defaulting on its bonds.
Last week, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina suggested that the Pauper State (formerly the Golden State) should consider declaring bankruptcy. (She was apparently not aware that states can’t declare bankruptcy under federal U.S. bankruptcy law, demonstrating that trademark fiscal conservative grasp of fine economic details.)
It is in that context that the University of California Berkley is facing 25-per-cent budget cuts.
So, does Mr. Horner’s comparison mean that Alberta is broke too? Have our oil and gas royalties dried up entirely? Are we about to default on our bonds as well?
Well, gee, if the deputy premier of Alberta thinks the plight of the province’s leading university is just a milder version of the financial situation at the University of California, maybe the folks lining up to buy those 3.3-per-cent “Alberta Capital Bonds” should be thinking twice about that particular investment.
If our financial plight is comparable to California’s, maybe Mr. Horner or his boss should be placing a call to the federal government to put Alberta in trusteeship.
At the very least, maybe they should (quelle horreur!) be considering a return to a progressive income tax that would raise another $5.5 billion without anyone except the government’s ultra-rich friends feeling any pain.
Or maybe he’s just giving us a line of baloney. Maybe he’s just back to the same old Alberta Tory trick of making it up as you go along and then saying the first thing that pops into your head when someone calls you on it.
Maybe Alberta isn’t like California at all. Maybe we’re actually can afford to finance higher education in this province, but we’re just cutting it because … who knows? Maybe because we don’t want too many educated voters.