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Disinvesting from our future

So much budget talk, and not a student in sight./ Alec Salloum
So much budget talk, and not a student in sight./ Alec Salloum

In cutting off student cheques, the Sask. government undermines province’s prosperity.

Author: Sonia Stanger

The changes made to the Graduate Retention Program in the last provincial budget are bad news for Saskatchewan students. On Mar. 18, 2015, the government announced that the program would be changed from a fixed and automatic tax rebate, regardless of income level, to a non-refundable tax credit model. This means instead of automatically receiving a cheque to rebate money spent on tuition with their tax return, graduates will have to be making enough to pay income tax before receiving the credit.

As it happens, a student with no children would have to be making $36,000 to be eligible to receive money back. Likewise, a student with children has to make $55,000 annually to meet the threshold. These are the figures the provincial government came out with to explain their changes. Luckily, it is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone gets a great-paying job right out of school. Right?

The government says that because of the economic growth that the province has seen, the change shouldn’t impact many grads, as jobs are so widely available. This seems like a flimsy generalization to me. A single mother is certainly not going to find herself making $60,000 in the years immediately following graduation. I have friends who have been working in the private sector for years and still don’t make the threshold. I am graduating this year and will have a full-time job as of May. But I will still likely not make enough to qualify for the non-refundable version of the tax credit for a few years. Once I start receiving the credit, I’ll already be established and straights won’t be as dire as I’m sure they will be come next tax season.

This difference between the rebate and the non-refundable credit makes a huge difference to students in their first few years out of school. I talked to many friends who have graduated in the past five years and every one said that the rebate they received was a lifesaver and a big incentive to stay in Saskatchewan. The reality is that a non-refundable tax credit just isn’t as much of an incentive.

The Wall government estimates that this change will save $33.5 million in the short term. Part of these savings comes from the fact that those whose incomes don’t qualify for tax payments won’t get the full $20,000 amount, despite now having three more years to do so. And the idea that the Sask. Party is once again cutting costs at the expense of students leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For years, the rhetoric that we’ve heard from this government has been one of growth and prosperity; our province supposedly has an economic boom. And yet, not only did students receive this bad news on budget day, but the government also revealed that universities would also only be receiving a one per cent funding increase. This can only mean one thing: a ferocious tuition increase, the latest in a several-year trend of skyrocketing tuition.

The cost of oil is down, and that has affected our province’s revenue. But why does it always seem to be the least wealthy who are forced to pay when austerity becomes the name of the game? Brad Wall’s Sask. Party have fettered away all of the province’s money and, according to CTV News, racked up over $13 billion in provincial debt; this almost matches Grant Devine’s amount. And now, shamefully, students are paying for it. Students and young workers are vital to a healthy economy and society. Without incentives like the original iteration of the GRP, why should young people want to stay in a place where housing is increasingly expensive and the job market is increasingly competitive? Saskatchewan’s students deserve encouragement and support from their government, not the cold shoulder.

To anyone who feels jilted by the way the provincial government treats us young folks, I would remind you that there is a provincial election this year. The Wall government is counting on the traditionally low voter turnout among young people that you won’t show up to vote. Let’s prove them wrong, and show them that we will not be ignored and shorted.

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