Steinbach MLA lauds ‘historic’ budget


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The 2023 budget announced last Tuesday is one Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen said is “historic”.

The budget contains a plethora of new spending across the board, while also targeting debt relief and planning for the future.

The province says the budget will leave more than $5,500 in the pockets of the average family by 2024 while delivering funding increases in all 19 government departments.

For Goertzen among the most significant is the increase of the provincial basic personal amount.

Currently the amount Manitobans can earn before paying taxes is around $11,000, last place amongst provinces. The budget raises that amount to $15,000, fourth in Canada.

“It does support everybody, but it has a particular impact on those who are lower income,” Goertzen said.

This measure alone is expected to save an average two-income family over $1,000 and will remove 47,400 low-income Manitobans from the tax rolls.

A $160 million investment is also being made to increase income tax brackets to $47,000 and $100,000 in 2024. Manitobans should notice a seven percent increase this year, but Goertzen said that also assumes the budget will be passed in the spring session.

While historically budgets are passed in spring, over the last decade they’ve often been delayed to the fall session.

If that happens, Goertzen said tax savings will be delayed.

“That would delay some of those things because a lot of those measures will take place on July 1 if in fact, they can get the budget passed by spring,” he said.

He added opposition parties don’t have to support the budget to ensure it’s voted on this spring. “They have to let it come to a vote to allow these measures to come into place,” he said.

Increased revenues from federal transfer payments (a $577 million increase), a better than anticipated economic turnaround and more consumption taxes collected on higher priced goods due to inflation have benefited the provincial coffers.

Tax benefits also include increasing the school tax rebate to 50 percent on farm and residential properties, increases to the minimum wage set for April and October, and the family affordability package and carbon tax relief fund previously announced.

“You’ve got a government I think that’s both responding to the current needs that maybe were unforeseen a year ago but it’s the reality of what we’re dealing with right now, the high cost of living, but also looking beyond that and these are good measures to have in place for a long time,” Goertzen said of the mix of short term and long term relief.

Under the “safer streets” banner, the province also announced $51.8 million for their violent crime strategy, $51 million for a homelessness strategy, $9.4 million for 1,000 new treatment spaces for providers of substance-use and addictions treatment services, $1 million to support crisis stabilization unit beds and tele-psychiatry services and $1.5 million in child and youth mental health services.

While this benefits all Manitobans, Goertzen couldn’t say if any of that funding would directly support organizations in the Southeast.

Instead he said on issues like treatment beds, they would be issuing a request for proposals.

“Not every treatment space has to be a government space,” he said. “We see lots of jurisdictions where they have other providers who are saying we can go into that space; we can provide that support.”

A total of $7.9 billion has been designated for health care with $130 million earmarked to reduce the diagnostic and surgical backlog, a $120 million infusion to the Manitoba Pharmacare program including extended overage for insulin pumps for eligible adults with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, $1.2 billion in capital investments in rural hospitals and other health infrastructure, a hearing aid program offering $2,000 in support for eligible seniors, and $15.9 million to advance initiatives under the seniors strategy.

Goertzen said some of that funding will be used to support the Bethesda Regional Health Centre expansion, adding he’s advocating for more changes locally.

“I know that there’s a real strong desire to see the operating rooms at Bethesda upgraded and so I continue my advocacy on that,” he said.

Goertzen couldn’t say whether any of the money directed at seniors would be available to fund active living centres. “I haven’t seen the breakdown on that,” he said.

Under the banner of “stronger communities” the province announced $268.5 million to build, renovate and expand more schools, $100 million for school divisions, $81 million to ensure disability support workers would earn a funded average wage of $19 per hour and funds for childcare, recycling, arts, culture and sports and a new parks capital plan.

Goertzen said they tried to address the issues with disability support workers wages last year, but inflation brought the minimum wage up as well. That concern, he said, was echoed across the province including at Steinbach’s pre-budget consultation meeting.

“The real challenge is if their wage is too close to minimum wage it’s hard to keep people in that job,” he said. “It’s not easy to do the work that disability support workers do.”

Budget 2023 projects a $363 million deficit, down $15 million from the current 2022-23 forecast.

Manitoba has run deficits since 2009 with the exception of 2019 when the PC government posted a $5 million surplus.

Goertzen said the government is still on track to balance the budget by 2028, adding this budget reflects balance.

“People will opine on whether or not it’s a perfect balance, but there aren’t many budgets that I’ve seen that have been able to increase spending for things like healthcare and education, reduce taxes historically and lower the deficit,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.”

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