Jock Finlayson

Jock Finlayson

FINLAYSON: Where does the money come from? The B.C. government’s top revenue sources

Governments around the world have taken on mountains of debt during the pandemic to support the economy

The recent unveiling of new social and business restrictions by the Provincial Health Officer is a stark reminder that the COVID-19 saga is far from over, notwithstanding the arrival of vaccines. It is likely to take a few more months – at least – before life returns to something resembling normal. In the meantime, British Columbians will gain fresh insight into the state of the province’s economy and public finances when Finance Minister Selina Robinson tables the NDP government’s 2021 budget on April 20.

Governments around the world have taken on mountains of debt during the pandemic to support economic activity. B.C. is no exception, and the forthcoming budget will tally up the fiscal damage done to date. At last count, the province’s operating deficit for 2020-21 was on course to reach a record $13 billion, according to the Ministry of Finance. All of this sizable sum will need to be borrowed. The government didn’t expect a gusher of red ink when the previous budget was released in February 2020.

The return of big deficits highlights an important issue: apart from running deficits, which in B.C. were eliminated in the years leading up to 2020, where does the provincial government get the money to pay for services and programs? To answer this question, we look back at the most recent pre-COVID budget year, which ended on March 31, 2020.

In that year, the provincial government collected $58.7 billion from a mix of revenue sources. At a high level, the funds can be divided into two buckets. The first is “taxation revenues” derived from taxes paid by individuals and businesses. These include taxes on personal and business income, consumption, energy, alcohol and tobacco, property, real estate transactions, and much else besides. Taxes provided 57 per cent of the province’s revenues in 2019-20.

The rest came from “non-taxation revenues.” They consist of cash transfers to B.C. from the federal government, the net earnings of provincial Crown Corporations, natural resource royalties, and a grab-bag of fees and charges.

Looking more closely at the data, the accompanying table shows the province’s main sources of revenue in 2019-20.

Personal income tax has long been the number one source of cash for the provincial government, supplying 18 per cent of revenues in 2019-20. Next was money transferred to B.C. by the federal government (16 per cent), B.C.’s sales tax (13 per cent), corporate income tax (9 per cent), and the combined net earnings of provincial Crown Corporations (5 per cent). Other significant revenue sources are fees paid to education institutions, taxes on property and property transactions, direct natural resource royalties, the Employers’ Health Tax, and carbon and other fuel taxes. Added together, the top five revenue sources accounted for almost three fifths of the funds available to the B.C. government before the arrival of COVID-19.

Many of the revenue sources in the table have been dampened by disruptions caused by the pandemic. That’s a principal reason why the province will be posting a record deficit in 2020-21. However, most of the affected revenue streams have been rebounding since the summer and should continue to revive in 2021-22. This will narrow the size of the government’s annual deficit. But given the magnitude of the COVID hit to our economy, it will take time to return to a balanced provincial budget.

B.C.’s top revenue sources in 2020-21.

B.C.’s top revenue sources in 2020-21.

Restoring the economy to health is the best way to boost government revenues going forward. Indeed, fostering economic growth and job creation should be the primary focus of the 2021 provincial budget. The government should steer clear of tax and fee increases for now. If necessary, options for raising additional revenues can be considered once the economy has fully recovered from the epic COVID-19 shock.

Jock Finlayson is a senior policy advisor with the B.C. business council.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rachna Singh, MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, is the Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos)
A micro brewery is being eyed for Jordan River. However, the site where the brewery is proposed still needs to go through the rezoning process. (Black Press Media file)
Micro brewery proposed for Jordan River

Jordan River Brewing Company envisions to build wholesale, sit-in brewery along Highway 14

Traffic waits at the intersection of Highway 17 and Beacon Avenue. A study found failing levels of service at the intersection of Highway 17 and Sidney’s Beacon Avenue for multiple movements during morning peak traffic and for all left-moving traffic during afternoon peak traffic. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Province supports potential interim improvements to Sidney intersection

Province says interchange is the long-term plan for intersection of Beacon Avenue and Highway 17

Oak Bay local Lachlan Kratz (red, middle) has signed with pro rugby team NOLO Gold in Louisiana. (Contributed photo)
Oak Bay local signs with pro rugby team

Lachlan Kratz at 21 is now NOLO Gold’s youngest member

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read