Higgs government presents second budget

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Fredericton – On Tuesday provincial Finance and Treasury Board Minister Ernie Steeves unveiled the 2020/2021 budget, a document entitled “Creating a Culture of Action.”

“Today’s budget strikes an important balance between paying down debt, improving and delivering high-quality public services, and putting money back into the pockets of New Brunswickers,” said Steeves as he began his speech.

The $10.2 billion budget has a projected surplus of $92.4 million. This surplus comes on the heels of the $97.8 million surplus in the 2019/2020 budget. Combined these surpluses will allow the province to reduce the provincial debt by $277.7 million.

The single biggest expenditure in the public purse is healthcare. The budget increases spending by 3.9 per cent to $2.9 billion.

Rural areas such as Charlotte County can benefit from a $5 million program designed to maintain and encourage physicians.

To reduce ambulance wait times the province will invest in multi-patient transport units, as well as a new class of ambulances. Also all certified advance care paramedics will be allowed to practice at their full level.

While a new surgical suite will be opened at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, a dedicated operating room will be established at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Saint John for knee and hip surgeries.

Recognizing that staff shortages are a critical issue across the province $3.5 million will be spent to encourage nurses to come to New Brunswick. This strategy will include education as well as immigration.

Another $5 is earmarked to help move Alternative Level of Care (ALC) patients out of the hospitals and to relocate them into nursing homes and special care homes.

The province will spend $4.2 million deploying nurse practitioners to emergency rooms and clinics.

Other highlights include:

• $1.5 million vaccination program,

• An additional $6.2 million will be added to cancer drug funding and treatments.

• A combined $5.5 million will be spent in mental healthcare to be divided between the departments of health, social development and education.

For the first time in six years, there will be an increase social assistance rates with the addition of $5.4 million in programs.

After years of declining enrollment in the education system, the 2019-2020 school year saw an increase of 1,100 students. The province will invest $7.1 million to recruit more teachers in the 2020-2021 year.Education minister Dominic Cardy recently toured the province, and many ideas presented in the series of round tables are represented in this budget with increases to support teacher resources, educational assistants, and French language training.

The province will spend $500,000 in the Arts Development Trust Fund, as well as an equal amount in the Sports Development Trust Fund,

On the climate file the province will invest $36 million for climate change initiatives, and an additional $9 million to ensure the competitiveness of the natural gas distribution system.

While both this government, as well as the previous government have battled with the federal government on carbon pricing, this budget includes a made in NB plan which will replace the current federal backstop measure. A price on carbon will be imposed April 1of 6.63 cents per litre on gasoline and 8.05 cents per litre on diesel. However with a reduction in the gasoline tax by 4.63 cents per litre from 15.5 cents to 10.87 cents per litre. The motive fuel (diesel) tax will decrease by 6.05 cents per litre from 21.5 cents to 15.45 cents per litre. With this reduction, there will be an effective price on carbon of two cents per litre in 2020–2021 on gasoline and motive fuels.

Another area of concern for many New Brunswickers is the so called double taxation on property taxes. Beginning in the 2021 tax year there will be a 50 per cent reduction of the provincial non-owner-occupied property residential tax rate (double-taxation) over a four-year period to $0.5617 per $100 of assessment from $1.1233.

“Today’s budget is about building on the momentum we have established since forming government, lowering our debt, addressing priority areas and putting money back into the pockets of New Brunswickers,“ said Steeves in his summary to the Legislature.