Real estate, low dollar keep B.C. in the black

Property transfer tax up $150 million from spring budget, tourism and movie business surge due to 75-cent Canadian dollar

Finance Minister Mike de Jong

The B.C. government expects to finish the fiscal year next March with a $265 million surplus, thanks to surging property transfer tax revenues and a lower Canadian dollar that helps everything from tourism to the movie and TV industry.

Government revenues have declined due to lower natural gas, metals and other natural resources, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Tuesday in his second quarter financial update. But with a continued hot real estate market in southwestern B.C. and housing starts running above average, property purchase tax revenue is $150 million ahead of the February budget forecast.

Retail sales are running 7.2 per cent ahead of last year for the period of April to August, with vehicle and parts sales up 9.5 per cent and food and beverage up 7.5 per cent.

De Jong said the Canadian dollar, currently trading at 75 cents U.S., has cut down on cross-border shopping trips from B.C. and contributed to a rebound of tourism, which along with stronger employment has helped increase retail sales.

The dollar exchange rate has also led to an increase in movie and TV production, which costs the province because of the big tax incentives offered to lure foreign productions here.

Foreign movie companies get a 25 per cent tax rebate for all spending on labour in the province, and the latest estimate is those credits will climb to a record $514 million for the current year. De Jong said B.C. remains competitive in the movie business despite Ontario increasing its tax credits in 2009 to cover 25 per cent of all spending by foreign movie and TV production companies.

Forest fire expenses were higher than average this year, but not as high as expected earlier in the season.

Exports from B.C. are down overall, with economic growth projections downgraded for the U.S., Canada, China and Japan, which de Jong said is now back in a recession.