Finance Minister Tom Marshall delivered a nearly $8 billion provincial budget today that holds the line on the levels of spending and investments seen in the past in key areas of health care, education and infrastructure, while carrying a deficit of $258.4 million — lower than previously forecast.
Fears of large job losses in the public sector also failed to materialize with only about 45 temporary positions expected to be eliminated this year.
In addition to the reduction in temporary positions, the various departments also found $38.8 million in savings which came primarily from reducing administrative costs and lowering budgets for travel, professional services and purchased services.
Marshall said government decided not to “slash and burn” to deal with the fiscal challenge this year, but to manage and reduce spending over time.
“The long-term focus of government is demonstrated in our chosen goal to lower net debt per capita to the all-province average over 10 years,” Marshall said. “Having said that, we must remain vigilant and ensure our level of spending growth is affordable and sustainable to attain the goal.”
Marshall said government will hold the growth of the public sector through attrition over the next five years when about 24 per cent of public sector employees will be eligible for retirement, while some others are expected to leave by taking jobs in the private sector. He also said government departments will continue a structured core mandate review of operations to identify opportunities to ensure the efficient delivery of programs and services.
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The minister noted this year's budget deficit reflects the end of offset payments under the Atlantic Accord, and lower oil production revenues due to the Terra Nova and White Rose projects being scheduled for maintenance shutdowns during the year. A return to surplus, however, is anticipated by 2014-15.
“Budget 2012 reflects a reduced rate of spending growth, while ensuring the important programs and services that Newfoundland Labrador families rely upon are not compromised,” Marshall said. “Net program expenses will grow by 1.7 per cent in 2012-13, well below the 2.2 per cent expected rate of inflation.”
Some key items in the budget include:
• About $3 billion to enhance access to health care in areas such as long-term care and community support, breast cancer screening, and shorter wait times;
• Almost $900 million for infrastructure improvements including major roads projects, replacement of aging ferries, continued construction of new schools and hospitals, and repair, maintenance or redevelopment of existing buildings;
• Almost $200 million for businesses to facilitate growth and development;
• $150.8 million in the Poverty Reduction Strategy, an increase of approximately $11.3 million from last year;
• $130 million over two years for new municipal infrastructure projects;
• Maintaining the additional funding level of $4.6 million that was provided last year to municipal operating grants.
• $9 million in new funding to increase apprenticeship training, support post-secondary institutions and students, and enhance workforce development;
• An additional $8.8 million for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services;
• $3.7 million to provide a 35 per cent reduction to seniors aged 65 and older on driver's licence and vehicle registration fees, and other licences and fees for such things as hunting, fishing, cutting wood, and camping;
• Continuing tax initiatives such as the Residential Energy Rebate, the supplementary Child Care Tax Credit, Personal Income Tax reductions and the Low Income Seniors' Benefit.
• $3 million for Season 4 of Republic of Doyle to be allocated over two fiscal years.