Nova Scotia budget brings razor-thin surplus, modest spending
Tobacco tax hike, prediction that health-care spending will be flat helps Liberals get to balanced budget
The Nova Scotia government unveiled a stay-the-course budget Tuesday, with a razor-thin $17.1-million surplus and a slate of small investments.
"Our net position is modest," said Finance Minister Randy Delorey.
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The only tax increase in the budget — a small hike on tobacco — accounts for most of the surplus. There are no major new programs or big-ticket items, with the government touting a balanced $10 billion budget.
Among a laundry list of modest spending increases, the single-biggest is $14.4 million more for home nursing and support services.
The surplus prediction assumes overall health-care spending won't go up this year, even though it increased an average of two per cent annually over the past five years.
The government said it plans to spend nearly $3.7 million this year on designs for replacing Halifax's crumbling Victoria General Hospital, but no money has been committed for construction yet.
The province said it will spend $6.6 million more on child care, splitting the money between subsidized child-care spaces, inclusive programming and a wage increase for early childhood educators.
The province didn't offer any details on the wage increase, saying specifics will released in the next few weeks. Nova Scotia's early childhood educators are currently paid an average of $12.84 per hour, the lowest rate in the country.
Small income assistance bump
Nova Scotians who receive income assistance will see a $20 increase to their monthly allowance starting at the end of May.
"That is the single largest increase in the province's history," said Delorey.
The increase will cost $7.5 million overall, affecting about 24,000 people in the province.
The province will also spend $12.9 million more on support for people with disabilities, including money to move people out of facilities and into community-based care.
Other spending highlights
Nova Scotia smokers will be taxed an additional 50 cents for every pack of cigarettes they buy, and cigars will see a relatively small tax jump. The tax doesn't apply to e-cigarettes, but the province says the increase will bring in an additional $15.8 million per year.
Other spending highlights:
- $6 million to expand high-speed internet in rural areas.
- $1.9 million to cut down on wait times for knee and hip surgeries.
- If farmers donate their crops to food banks, they'll get 25 per cent of the value back as a tax credit.
The government says the province had a deficit of $71 million in 2015-2016, lower than its original estimate of $96.6 million. The province says revenues were down 0.3 per cent last year, but expenses also went down by 0.7 per cent.