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BC looking for ways to cut budget as natural gas revenue falls

Falling natural gas revenues have blown a hole in British Columbia's budget, a problem the NDP's finance critic says should have been foreseen.

"We are, and I am, committed to balancing the budget next year," said Finance Minister Mike de Jong while presenting the first quarterly report for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. "None of this makes that any easier."

The minister outlined falling natural gas revenues that dropped $1.4 billion out of the province's three-year fiscal plan. That includes $241 million that will need to be made up in the current fiscal year.

De Jong said the ministry has already put a freeze on hiring, frozen salaries and put strict control on travel and discretionary spending. It is also examining its bargaining mandate and may seek to find savings in negotiations with public sector unions, he said.

"We are resolved to do everything possible to meet our commitment to taxpayers and not spend money we don't have," he said, acknowledging the places to cut have not been identified. "There's no question we have more work to do."

Premier Christy Clark and the government gambled on the price of natural gas being higher when it was clear there was much downside risk, said Bruce Ralston the NDP finance critic. "I raised this back in May and expressed serious skepticism about the number they were putting forward."

Ralston said he's dubious about the government's plans for getting back on track. "They claim they've been grinding down discretionary expenses in the broad public service since 2008."

The government is sending mixed message, on one hand saying there's no money while on the other announcing things like $20 million for a sports facility in the premier's constituency, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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