N.S. to spend $610 million on capital projects
A stalled national and international economic recovery has prompted a higher-than-projected capital budget in Nova Scotia of $610 million for fiscal 2012-13, the province's finance minister said Friday.
Graham Steele said the money would fund 150 projects — everything from new schools and hospital renovations to information technology and highway work — is more than the $460 million projected in last spring's budget.
Steele said it became evident to officials in his department that the province had to respond when it began the budgeting process in September.
"I think people want us to respond flexibly to conditions and not be rigid about it," he said at a news conference.
The minister said government restraint measures had enabled his department to put more money into capital programs.
"There's a time that you need to respond to the infrastructure deficit while keeping an eye on job creation, and this is the year where I think the people of the province expect us to do that."
Steele said the plan would have a small impact on the province's net debt-to-GDP ratio, a key indicator for capital markets.
The plan includes $281 million for highways, $158 million for building projects and $57.2 million for information technology projects.
Steele said it would create employment equal to 4,500 full-time jobs.
He shied away from calling the funding injection a provincial stimulus plan, but that didn't stop Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.
"This is just expensive pre-election NDP stimulus. It's not a jobs plan," said Baillie. "As long as the government continues to run a deficit, all of this is being done with borrowed money."
Liberal finance critic Diana Whalen said while the spending levels were probably "reasonable" in a province lacking in upgraded infrastructure, she wasn't buying the government's attempt to rebrand the capital budget as a jobs plan.
"There's very little detail.… It just lists projects and it doesn't give you any breakdown or rationale," said Whalen.
In fact, many of the projects have already been announced, including $79 million to construct and upgrade schools in communities including Glace Bay, New Glasgow and Liverpool.
The capital plan is subject to the approval of the legislature as part of the budget to be tabled next spring.
Last December, the government announced $560 million in capital spending for fiscal 2011-12, down from $711 million in the 2010-11 budget issued at the height of Ottawa's stimulus plan.
The Finance Department said at the time that capital spending prior to the federal help typically ranged from $300 million to $400 million.