Manitoba budget: Spending praised by some, deficit spending slammed by others
Reaction was swift to Manitoba's 2015 budget, tabled on Thursday, with fiscal conservatives steamed over the NDP government's deficit spending and social agencies and unions glad to see no cuts.
- Manitoba's budget focuses on infrastructure, but maintains deficit
- Budget highlights: tax credits, minimum wage increase and more
"Really, this could be considered a pre-election budget — 420-some million dollars in deficit. I don't think anybody's surprised about that," said Chris Adams, a local political analyst.
Here's what some politicians and advocates had to say about the budget:
Winnipeg's mayor says the budget contains some "nuggets" that are good for the city, including the provincial government's promise to fund one-third of the Waverley Street and Marion Street underpass proposals and a $5-million investment in a new initiative called the Build Winnipeg partnership.
But despite the budget's $1-billion commitment to infrastructure, Bowman and other municipal leaders have been calling for a slice of the provincial sales tax dedicated to municipal infrastructure.
What's really needed, Bowman said, is an overhaul of the way municipalities are funded.
"These were ultimately just nuggets. We've seen, year after year, the same discussion that has the City of Winnipeg coming, cap-in-hand, crying poor. Well, that's not getting us anywhere. I'm not sitting here today and standing here to tell you it's simply we need new money," he told reporters.
Bowman's view was shared by Doug Dobrowolski, president of the executive with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
"I'd equate it to … when you're trying to save money, you turn a few lights out thinking you're saving a few bucks, but that's about it," he said.
The president of CUPE Manitoba says the 2015 provincial budget reflects the needs of Manitobans and invests in core services.
"What I'm used to seeing and hearing from my counterparts is cuts in many of the provinces," she said.
"We're seeing investments here — investments in core services, health care, education — priorities for Manitobans and obviously for our members as well."
The director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' Manitoba office says she's pleased to see rent relief for low-income families. The budget proposes increasing the Rent Assist program to 75 per cent of the median market rent.
"I think this is a responsible approach," she said.
"It's an investment in social services that we depend on through the infrastructure spending. It's a measured approach and, yeah, it's a good budget."
The president of the University of Winnipeg Students' Association says he's pleased to see universities getting a 2.5 per cent increase in operating grants this year.
"But certainly, increases to funding are crucial in terms of maintaining an accessible, quality system of post-secondary education."
Colleges will also see a funding increase of two per cent under this year's budget.
Veitch said he was also happy to see that starting in August, Manitoba students won't have to pay interest on their student loans and car ownership will no longer be a barrier to accessing those loans.
The prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says deficit spending is the wrong way to go, as well as the government's plan to draw from its rainy day fund once again.
"They promised to have the budget balanced by now. They're racking up $422 million in deficit. You know, future generations are going to have to pay for this; it's completely reckless."
The Progressive Conservative leader accused the NDP government of "[throwing] fiscal management in the ditch" with its deficit spending, especially after Finance Minister Greg Dewar said the government won't present a balanced budget until 2018.
"They are making promises with money they are taking from our children and our grandchildren here," Pallister said, adding that the future of front-line services will be at greater risk.
"Every program they promise to expand today, every vote they promise to buy today, is going to come at the expense of the future security of the people whose vote they are trying to buy."
Manness, who was finance minister in Gary Filmon's Progressive Conservative government from 1988 to 1993, told CBC News he is troubled by how the NDP government bas "basically raided" the province's rainy day fund, officially known as the fiscal stabilization account.
"To me, the rainy day fund is finished. There's nothing left," Manness said.
"If it's not there and the really difficult times come, and there's no doubt we're at a point of flat revenues to government, there's no way around it. So if another flood or real difficulty comes, there's nothing to draw on; there's nothing in the savings account."
Manness added that he doesn't buy the argument from Finance Minister Greg Dewar that the government will replenish the fund as the economy improves.
"I've always heard socialists say that … we will refund it when times are good. The problem is there's never a good time to refund it because the pressures of government are real," he said.
The Canada West Foundation says the Manitoba government is "banking on steady economic growth" with its deficit budget that focuses on infrastructure and jobs.
"It's great to see the province making strategic investments in the future of Manitoba, in particular in the areas of infrastructure and youth. These are investments that will pay off in the medium term," Plumstead, a senior economist with the foundation, said in a news release.
"The biggest concern we have with the budget is that the province is already spending $842 million a year in debt payments. This could skyrocket when interest rates climb, yet the province is still taking on significant additional debt. This is a legacy that Manitoba's youth may ultimately regret."