Delivering her first budget as Finance Minister, Jennifer Howard once again failed to deliver on the NDP government’s 2011 election promise to eliminate the education tax on farmland.
"We’re disappointed that they didn’t take the school tax right off of agricultural land," RM of Sifton Reeve Rick Plaisier said.
Farmers are eligible to apply to get 80 per cent of the tax refunded, up to a cap of $5,000. Plaisier was hoping the government would eliminate the cap and rebate 100 per cent of the tax.
He said the current method of school taxation based on parcels of land is inequitable, forcing farmers to pick up a disproportionate amount of the educational system’s funding. A more fair way would be to tax each resident.
For example, in the Turtle Mountain School Division, a farmer with five sections of land or 3,200 acres paid $5,320 in taxes last year. A homeowner in the division with a house valued at $250,000 paid $1,840.
"On the farmland tax credit I think we have gone as far as we can at this time," Howard said from Winnipeg speaking to reporters via conference call.
The money is necessary to return Manitoba’s books to the black by 2016, something she committed to while delivering her budget at the legislature.
"One of the challenges in every budget is getting the budget back to a balanced position," said Howard, who forecasted a $39 million surplus two years from now.
The budget will also cap government spending to two per cent per year on top of freezing or reducing the budgets of nine government departments.
There was no mention of additional funding for the recruitment of doctors to rural areas. The NDP promised to ensure every Manitoba has a family doctor by 2015.
However, many rural communities are struggling with doctor shortages and the situation is destined to get worse before it gets better, according to Prairie Mountain Health executives.
"We have in the past had programs for doctors that come from outside of Canada to work with existing doctors here to get their education recognized so they can start practicing," Howard said. "We have invested in those programs and those investments continue."
Funding for a joint health centre between Neepawa and Minnedosa was also omitted. The project, which is PMH’s "highest priority" according to its strategic capital planning, is supposed to serve as an acute care hub within the regional system.
In the agricultural sector, the Office of the Chief Veterinarian will get more privileges on the heels of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus outbreak, which surfaced in Manitoba last month and is threatening to disrupt the balance in the hog industry.
Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn said the new rules are similar to other provinces, such as Alberta.
"It provides the opportunity for the chief veterinarian office, in the event of a disease, they have the authority to enter a premise and get involved in the bio-security," he said.
Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Brian Pallister called Thursday’s budget the "Tylenol Budget" because it will give all Manitobans a headache.
"It’s hard to be anything but skeptical and I think Manitobans would be right to be skeptical," Pallister said. "This is a government that ran on three fundamental promises just two years ago and broke all three. A promise not to hike the PST, a promise to remove the tax on seniors’ property, and a promise to balance the budget, today, which they failed on."
Seniors who own homes will get some relief, however, as they will be able to apply for an education tax rebate of $235 in 2014, taking 7,200 seniors off tax rolls.
The government will also form a new "lean council" to examine ways it can deliver services more efficiently.
Pallister said after 15 years he doesn’t expect the NDP’s "spending problem" to dissipate. He said the quickest way to accomplish zero is to establish a council instead of doing something meaningful.
"When you mislead Manitobans on the three major promises you make, following with another 150 promises isn’t going to give you any credibility in the minds of thinking people," Pallister said. "I don’t think Manitobans are going to get fooled again."
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• Bonus for employers who take on apprentices for first time.
• Low-cost loans to help people buy winter tires.
• $5.5 million to boost child-care spaces and improve wages.
• Increased small business venture capital tax credit.
• Increased rental benefit for people on social assistance.
• Government spending growth capped at two per cent.
• Books balanced by 2016.
• Personal tax exemption frozen at $9,134.
• Small user-fee increases for drilling and municipal planning applications.
• Five-year plan to spend $5.5 billion fixing roads and bridges and for flood protection.
• New $5 fee on hunting licences for a fund to enhance wildlife habitat.
» The Canadian Press