After taking a beating from critics over its decision to hike the provincial sales tax, the Selinger government has redefined how it will spend the new tax revenue bonanza.
In today’s throne speech, the NDP vowed to restrict the $278 million in extra annual revenue from last summer’s PST increase to core infrastructure such as roads, sewers, bridges and flood protection.
Overall, the province promised to spend $5.5 billion over the next five years in these areas. The new plan, which will be detailed in next year’s budget, will allow the province time to secure matching federal dollars, the government said.
Included among the projects highlighted today:
— Reconstruction of Highway 75 to U.S. Interstate standards to ensure the road stays open except under the most devastating floods;— Provincial funding to widen by one lane the underpass on Pembina Highway at Jubilee Avenue as part of the expansion of rapid transit.— Upgrades to Highway 1 between Winnipeg and the Ontario border;— Resurfacing of Highway 59 from Brokenhead First Nation to beyond Grand Beach, leading to the future twinning of that section of the highway; and— Phased reconstruction of the southwest Perimeter Highway and creation of a new bypass around Headingley to divert heavy truck traffic.
In a briefing with reporters before Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee read the speech in the legislature, kicking off a new legislative session, Premier Greg Selinger said every dollar raised from the PST increase would flow to core infrastructure.
That is in contrast to the message the government delivered last spring, when it indicated that the additional PST revenues would also go to things like new schools, day cares and personal care homes.
That angered business and municipal leaders who had been ready to back an increase in the sales tax as long as the province spend the money where it would do the most good — on roads, bridges, sewer and water.
"Our new multi-year infrastructure plan will build on core, strategic and economic infrastructure. And every dollar raised from the new point of PST will be fully dedicated to new infrastructure investments over and above what we’re already doing," Selinger said.
Details of the renewal of Highway 75 will be unveiled at a news conference on Wednesday, the premier said.
Meanwhile, the government announced it will update the Language Arts curriculum for all K-12 students, focusing on improved literacy skills and the ability to think critically and communicate effectively.
The government will also take further steps to fight school bullying. New reporting requirements, a new provincial disciplinary code of conduct and more prevention measures will be unveiled in the next year.
And the province will do more to provide opportunities to high school students to prepare for future careers by increasing opportunities for them to earn post-secondary credits, expanding co-op and work placement credit options, and upgrading shop classes so students can get a head start on apprentice training in the trades.
In the coming weeks, Manitoba will host a national conference on diabetes. At that time, the province will release a new plan in support of renal health and for guarding against complications from diabetes and kidney disease.
Also in the throne speech, the province said it would:
— Establish a transportation authority to lead efforts to diversify and market the port of Churchill;
— Introduce livestock price insurance to protect Manitoba beef and hog producers;
— Introduce grants to help young entrepreneurs purchase equipment for technology-based start-up companies;
— Provide further reductions in school property taxes to seniors in the new year;
— Bring in further safeguards to protect consumers when buying cars purchasing cable, Internet or phone services.