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During 10 days of public meetings, special interest groups demanded $18.6 billion from the provincial government. It's 40 per cent of the province's annual budget. It's more than B.C. spends on health care. It's a ridiculous amount of money.

Our calculator literally broke. Poor thing -- it had faithfully served the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's B.C. office for four long years, but it finally gave up the ghost during this year's B.C. Budget consultation tour.

What killed it? Adding up $18,596,676,000 in new spending demanded by special interest groups during 10 days of public meetings. How much money is $18.6 billion? It's 40 per cent of the province's annual budget. It's more than B.C. spends on health care. It's a ridiculous amount of money.

No, the ol' calculator didn't stand a chance. Too many requests from too many groups. Too many billions and billions of dollars in demands. The letter E popped up on its screen, froze momentarily as it gasped its last digital breath, blinked and disappeared, never to turn on again. Fare thee well, calculator. Your work here is done.

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is a group of B.C. Liberal and NDP MLAs who travel the province every fall, hearing advice on what should be in the B.C. budget. The committee makes recommendations to Finance Minister Mike de Jong and is meant to act as a conduit for people to put things on his radar.

Unfortunately, it has become a place for groups to simply demand more government spending, funded -- of course -- by taxpayers. Some of the causes are incredibly worthy, and many of the groups do amazing work. But this process is the legislative equivalent of putting kids on Santa's lap to ask for more dough:

"Santa de Jong, please give us a billion dollars in bike infrastructure. Or completely free university tuition. Or more money for casino operators. Or new government buildings. Or more corporate welfare for favoured industries. Or new government programs and strategies. Or more regulators."

Add it all up, and the committee must now weigh $18.6 billion in new spending requests.

Then there are the groups that want you to pay more taxes -- tripling the carbon tax. Scrapping any semblance of carbon tax revenue neutrality. Income and corporate tax hikes. More gas taxes. Taxes on food and drinks.

Frustratingly little - maybe a few million dollars - is suggested in the way of efficiency. Doing more with less is never a recommendation from these groups.

More spending, more taxes, more programs. More, more, more. And less in the pockets of taxpayers already scraping to get by.

Over the past few years, B.C. has balanced its operating budget and generated some modest surpluses. De Jong projects a $277 million surplus this year, but he would need 67 times that amount to fund all of these pre-budget requests. It's imperative he says no.

The CTF made its own presentation to the committee, recommending he pass a Debt Reduction Act to use 75 per cent of annual surplus to pay down B.C.'s growing debt. The province spends about $2.5 billion a year paying interest charges on its existing debt; reducing that amount would free up dollars for other priorities.

It's a simple recipe: the less we spend on interest payments, the more we have for other things. It takes patience and discipline, but it's the prudent way to go.

Right now, too many special interests think de Jong has a bag full of money to spend. Making it clear that three-quarters of the surplus is already spoken for might ease some of that pressure.

In the meantime, don't worry, Santa de Jong. The CTF won't ask you to spend taxpayer money buying us a new calculator. We'll pick up that tab ourselves.

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