The B.C. budget for this year includes planning funds for replacing the George Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River.

B.C. budget: Operating debt begins to decline

Operating debt to decline, capital debt keeps growing as hospitals, schools, road and transit projects continue

After five years of borrowing to pay for “groceries,” Finance Minister Mike de Jong says budget surpluses this year and in the coming years will largely be used to pay down operating debt.

The provincial budget shows operating debt of $9.4 billion for the year ending in March, declining to $8.4 billion in 2015-16 and falling below $5 billion by 2018.

Total provincial debt, including roads, hospitals and other capital projects as well as debt held by BC Hydro and other Crown corporations, grows to more than $70 billion by the end of the province’s three-year fiscal plan.

De Jong said balancing the budget means the province is only borrowing to build assets, and the current spending plan calls for $10.7 billion more in taxpayer-supported debt. One new project is planning funds for the proposed replacement of the George Massey tunnel under the Fraser River, a bottleneck for vehicle and shipping traffic.

Other projects:

• Post-secondary facilities include replacement of trade buildings at Okanagan College in Kelowna and Camosun College in Victoria, a trades facility at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt and relocation of Vancouver Community College and BCIT heavy duty and commercial transportation programs in New Westminster

• New high schools including Centennial Secondary in Coquitlam, Oak Bay Secondary in Oak Bay, Wellington Secondary in Nanaimo, Clayton North Secondary in Surrey and Kitsilano Secondary in Vancouver.

• Transportation projects including Evergreen rapid transit line to Coquitlam, improvements to Highway 97 in the Cariboo and the Mountain Highway interchange in North Vancouver

• Health care projects including North Island Hospitals in Comox and Campbell River, Interior Heart and Surgery Centre in Kelowna and clinical support and acute care centres at Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Vancouver