Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP seeks to stretch PST spending

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In a classic rendition of closing the barn door late, the Selinger government has now started to talk to various groups about how best to use the extra $275 million from the PST hike it levied in July.

Given who they've invited to the table, Manitobans can expect to see a variety of ideas on tap, well beyond roads, sewer and water and bridges.

Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald said the government is hearing that the money from the hike ought to go to "core" infrastructure. But her government's spending to date of the cash raised by the additional one percentage point in PST has fueled many projects, big and small, and grip-and-grin photo opportunities it wants to translate into popular support and votes on election day.

The NDP administration expanded the definition of infrastructure to include hospitals and schools and day cares and so far has also funded community group projects, such as studio equipment for a music program, murals and benches.

Those novel interpretations of "infrastructure" will be joined now by the suggestions from unions, who are invited now to the consultations with municipalities, business and construction associations.

This is crass political opportunism, a distortion of the concept of a tax for infrastructure -- an idea the Selinger government stole from a number of voices that had made the case years before the province sprung the one percentage point hike in the last budget.

For years, municipalities called for a dedicated stream of revenue to put to the job of fixing and building the roads, bridges and sewer and water pipes that had been left to decay or were unaddressed. For years, the NDP administration refused to budge on its line it had not been elected to raise taxes.

Until, of course, raising taxes became a way to dig a spend-thrift government out of deficit. The government last year scooped an additional $49 million in higher gas taxes implemented in 2012, promising the revenues would go entirely to fixing highways. The highways budget dropped from $540 million in 2011/12 to $516 million last year; the new money essentially replaced cash previously taken from general revenue.

Mayors, reeves and industry representatives, for the sake of addressing Manitoba's growing infrastructure deficit, need to speak with one voice and make it heard to taxpayers. The NDP has lots of money now to grease its PR machinery, but that should not drown out the call for spending the cash where it is needed most.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 A14

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