1. ELECTION BUDGET
The Selinger government imposed major tax increases in the first two budgets following its re-election in October 2011, including a one-point rise in the PST last year. But with an election expected in spring 2016 -- and possibly as early as October 2015 -- it was not going to impose an even greater level of tax pain on an increasingly cranky electorate. So this year's budget contains no tax increases -- not even a boost in tobacco levies and any fee increases will only be absorbed by a small handful of Manitobans who buy provincial maps or hunt.
2. CONTROL SPENDING
The province will freeze or cut spending in nine government departments. They are Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Civil Service Commission, Conservation and Water Stewardship, Finance, Housing and Community Development, Labour and Immigration, Mineral Resources and Multiculturalism and Literacy. The NDP will also limit government spending growth to two cent in the coming year, first to ensure government does not grow more quickly than the economy, but to whittle down the deficit. The province is forecast to be back in surplus to the tune of $39 million by 2016-17.
3. HAVE YOU SEEN THEM?
The size of forecast deficit in 2015-16 is in part to deal with less money in per capita federal transfer payments due to Statistic Canada reducing the estimate of Manitoba's population by 18,000 people. The province says that discrepancy will take $100 million out of that year's budget and by the same amount in each of the three following budget years. The projected deficit for that year was $164 million, but has been adjusted upwards to $218 million. The following year, the government says it will be back in surplus. The province has proposed an independent review to resolve the matter.
4. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
The province is putting its eggs in one basket on its various education and job-training programs. That includes hiring 50 more teachers to reduce class sizes, to creating a new bonus for employers who take on apprentices, to adding more on-the-job training programs in the province's north. "We believe in an education system with no wrong doors and no dead ends," Finance Minister Jennifer Howard said in her budget speech. The province will also boost the minimum wage this year. It was last raised to $10.45 per hour last Oct. 1.
After several years of intense lobbying, the NDP is making a significant move on poverty. The chunk of welfare earmarked for housing will rise steadily over the next four years so it matches 75 per cent of average rents in the province. Starting July, people on welfare will get between $50 and $70 more a month for housing, and the number of people eligible for that cash will grow to include more of the working poor. That, say activists, will help the poor stop dipping into their food budgets to make rent. The move adds another $20 million onto the welfare budget this year. The cost in the coming three years is unknown.