Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PST cash boosts road repairs to $5.5B

Province unveils five-year targets

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More money than ever will pay to fill potholes and repave highways thanks to last year's PST hike, the NDP says.

In rolling out its five-year infrastructure plan on Wednesday, the Selinger government said $1.5 billion in PST revenue will be added to the kitty, for a total of $5.5 billion to be spent by 2019.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said the building blueprint wouldn't be what it is without last year's one-point increase of the PST to eight per cent: "The next five years will have a significant increase over the last five years and the difference is the one cent on the dollar."

Much of what the province will fix has already been announced -- improving Highway 75, for example. The plan was announced one day before Finance Minister Jennifer Howard tables the 2014 budget.

The NDP is going on the offensive by justifying the tax hike after almost a year of being under attack from the Conservatives for raising the PST without holding a referendum. Leader Brian Pallister's Conservatives are challenging the PST increase in court.

"I think over the next period of time (Manitobans) are also going to see that there's a clear choice," Ashton said.

"Certainly, our political opponents have made it very clear what they would do. They would cut the one cent on the dollar. They would end up cutting a lot of programming, but they would also cut the investment in infrastructure."

Pallister said the province should not be using PST revenue for infrastructure, but should fund it from general revenue, like every other province.

"Normally, if you poll any group and say, 'Would you like an election?,' the answer is 'No, we don't want an election,' " Pallister said Wednesday. "I think if you poll Manitobans right now, you might get an exceptionally high response rate and you might get a response that says, 'Yes, we'd like a chance to vote right now.' "

In a separate news conference, Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz said the province will contribute $250 million to the city to repair roads and bridges during the next five years.

Selinger said that amount adds $66 million in new money from last year's increase to the PST.

The five-year plan doesn't outline how much money Ottawa will contribute. The province has yet to meet with senior Manitoba MP Shelly Glover.

The province's plan is based on the amount the federal government has contributed to infrastructure projects, about $467 million in the past decade.

The NDP recruited the Conference Board of Canada to vet the five-year plan. The board said the plan will create 59,900 person-years of employment, lift Manitoba's economy by $6.3 billion and generate $1.4 billion in retail sales.

The conference board also said during the five-year period, the federal and provincial governments will benefit from a cumulative $1.2-billion increase in personal income taxes and indirect taxes. Corporate income taxes will cumulatively add another $94 million to government coffers while the federal Employment Insurance balance will improve by $59 million. The province paid $17,000 for the analysis.

The province's third-quarter report said about $300 million budgeted for infrastructure will not be spent in the 2013-14 budget year, but the province says that money will get rolled over to the next fiscal year, and any unspent money in any of the next five years will be rolled over to the following year.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2014 A7

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