THE Selinger government fought back Wednesday against critics who say the NDP's new budget cuts infrastructure spending by $100 million compared to last year.
Leading the charge were Premier Greg Selinger and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton, who said the province will spend a record $589 million this year to fix the province's roads and highways. They also outlined the province's 2012 infrastructure plan, which includes repairs to 80 bridges and 200 roads damaged in last year's flooding.
"The $589 million is the real cost -- it doesn't include anything on municipalities -- that's what is spent on roads and bridges," Ashton said.
"Most Manitobans are asking, 'What am I paying in gas taxes? What am I getting back?' As the premier says, for every dollar people are paying in gas tax, including after the increase, it'll be a two-dollar expenditure back in our highways."
"It's a twofer," Selinger added, saying Manitoba still has the second-lowest gas tax in Canada.
Selinger said the province will also transfer a record $262 million to municipalities this year that can be directed to infrastructure projects.
Ashton said capital spending on items such as the jail for women in Headingley, new water bombers and the Red River Floodway expansion have muddied NDP spending figures. Those items, paid for over consecutive budgets, are not included in the 2012-13 budget.
Ashton also said the province is keeping pace with infrastructure spending despite Ottawa contributing about $50 million less in stimulus funding this year.
Selinger also said $50 million will go toward repairing flood-damaged roads and bridges. Other projects include renewing or building more than 2,400 kilometres of roads and building the first phase of the east side road network.
One bridge that won't be fixed or replaced immediately is the flood-damaged Waskada bridge over the Souris River, about 140 kilometres southwest of Brandon. Ashton said more engineering work has to be done for that project to begin.
He also said Ottawa has so far paid the province $50 million in disaster assistance for fighting last year's flood. More is to come.
"We've booked about $400-plus million on that," Selinger said. "The issue is timing, when it will show up."
The Harper government has not yet given the province a response on its stake in the $100-million Lake St. Martin emergency channel dug late last year to lower Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba water levels.
Hard copy not free
BAD news for Manitobans who want a paper copy of the new budget -- there's no budget for that.
Be prepared to spend time and money -- $25 -- to get a physical copy of the province's newest budget.
At least one person is unhappy with the current state of affairs.
"I was shocked by being required to pay for something which should be mandatorily sent to every household in Manitoba by the provincial government free of charge," said Gerald McIvor, in a letter to the Free Press.
He said he spoke on the phone with a woman in the finance minister's office who told him he could only order a copy of the budget in person.
Those interested in owning a paper copy of the budget can head to the legislative building, fill out a request form and pay with cash, cheque or money order. If you live outside Winnipeg, or don't have time to visit the legislature, they will fax you a copy of the form that can be mailed in along with the necessary fee.
McIvor said the woman informed him the budget is available for free on the Manitoba government's website at www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget12/papers.html .
-- Kelly Graham