Finance minister touts infrastructure and skills spending in 2015 budget
Ben Miljure, CTV Winnipeg
Published Thursday, April 30, 2015 9:50AM CST
Last Updated Thursday, April 30, 2015 5:27PM CST
The NDP government says the main priority in the 2015 budget is infrastructure but the increased investments may still not be enough to appease civic and municipal leaders around the province.
The government plans to spend $15.5 billion in the coming year and will run a deficit of $422 million.
In 2009, the NDP promised to balance the books by 2015 but have since extended that deadline two times and now say the budget will not be balanced until 2018.
“We are starting to see good numbers now and we are anticipating that we will return to surplus as long as we spend less than we have coming in,” said Finance Minister Greg Dewar.
The finance minister committed to funding one third of the cost for a pair of underpasses in the City of Winnipeg.
City council recently listed the Waverley Street and Marion Street underpasses as the top two traffic infrastructure priorities in Winnipeg.
Most of the other infrastructure projects announced in the budget had already been previously announced and many of them are already underway.
Dewar calls the total infrastructure investment of $1.08 billion an all-time record for the province.
“Investing in key infrastructure allows us to build roads, bridges and flood protection,” said Dewar.
The province will dip into the rainy day fund and use $105 million to pay down debt and invest in infrastructure.
Civic leaders across Manitoba, including Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, have consistently called on the government to provide a share of the revenues from 2013’s PST increase with municipalities but that measure was not included in the new budget.
“We provide the municipal governments with record levels of investments and the City of Winnipeg will receive more money this year than they did last year,” said Dewar in response to a question about sharing PST revenues.
There are several measures in the budget aimed at young people.
Going forward, provincial student loans will now be interest free for the lifetime of the loan, and existing loans will no longer be charged interest on their outstanding balances.
The minimum wage will increase to $11 per hour in October and the province will offer tax credits to companies to cover the costs of training young people.
The budget includes a promise to create 900 new affordable child-care spaces.
People who serve as primary caregivers for vulnerable relatives in their homes will see a tax credit of $1,400, up from $1,275.
The government plans to invest an additional $22 million in Rent Assist which will bring the program to 75 per cent of median market rent, an acceleration of the previously announced program.
The province will introduce its first-ever drought strategy, including the opening of a new $9 million facility for fighting forest fires.
And volunteer firefighters and search and rescue volunteers will be offered an income tax credit of up to $324 per year, provided they contribute a minimum of 200 hours.
In a bid to encourage airlines to offer more direct flight options to and from Winnipeg, the government will offer a fuel tax rebate to airlines.
With a few exceptions, Manitobans will not see an increase in taxes and fees.
The tobacco tax will increase by 12.5 cents per package of cigarettes, with the revenue being directed towards a $2-million increase in programs to encourage people to quit smoking.
Taxes for banks and financial institutions will rise from five to six per cent, generating an additional $18 million in revenue.
“We decided that the big banks could afford to make a contribution to tax relief in other areas,” said Dewar, adding an additional 2,000 small businesses will be taken off the tax rolls.
-with files from The Canadian Press