Low- and middle-income New Brunswickers could get a break on their taxes if the provincial government increases the HST in its Feb. 2 budget, according to the latest trial balloon floated by the Gallant government.
The New Brunswick government has been taking the public's temperature on a variety of potentially unpopular decisions for several weeks by releasing details about possible options that could be included in the Gallant government's second budget.
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A possible two-percentage-point increase in the HST has been raised many times before, but Liberal cabinet minister Victor Boudreau, who is responsible for the strategic program review, said a tax credit could be created to help low- and middle-income families.
Raising the HST by two percentage points would funnel about $300 million into the provincial coffers, which represents the largest revenue generating option that the provincial government is looking at to tackle its deficit and debt problem.
"Our government is focused on helping families and our most vulnerable. A credit would decrease the revenue associated with an HST increase, but it would help those who need it most," Boudreau said in a statement.
"We want New Brunswickers to be aware of the credit option that we would consider as part of any potential decision about the HST."
The HST rate started at 15 per cent in 1997 but it was reduced to 13 per cent by former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2008.
Nova Scotia has already restored the HST level to 15 per cent.
The New Brunswick government boasted on its website that the proposed tax credit measures would be more generous than a similar program being offered in Nova Scotia.
A full HST credit would be offered to anyone with a family income of less than $35,000. The full credit would be $300 per adult and $100 per child under 18.
A single-parent family would qualify for a full credit of $300 for their first child.
The value of the credit would be gradually reduced for families earning more than $35,000. The provincial government's statement said a family with two adults and two children and a combined income of less than $75,000 could still qualify for a payment.
"This HST credit is one option we considered which provides the greatest benefit to low and middle-income New Brunswickers," Boudreau said in a statement.
The strategic program review was created more than a year ago by the Gallant government to identify ways to find $600 million in new revenues or programs and services to cut.
Boudreau has hosted a series of public meetings and released reports identifying various options. Finance Minister Roger Melanson will outline what decisions will be taken in his Feb. 2 budget.