For the first time since 2013, Nova Scotia’s budget is reported as balanced. (The 2013 budget did end up in the red by year’s end.) If the Liberals keep this year’s budget on track, it will be the first recorded surplus since 2010-11, under the former NDP government.
The Liberals are posting a razor thin $17.1 million surplus for 2016-17. While still in the black, the budget is $5.5 million lower than the government forecasted last year for this year’s budget. The government is also forecasting a balanced budget for the subsequent four years.
The government is also ending the 2015-16 year with a lower deficit than expected, sitting at $71.2 million. It was originally predicted to sit at $97.6 million.
Here are some major highlights in this year’s budget:
No news on the Victoria General Hospital replacement
Health officials say the plan for replacing Halifax’s ailing hospital is coming “very, very soon.” The budget includes plans to launch a multi-year redevelopment plan for the QEII Health Sciences Centre. It also includes a re-announcement of $3.7 million for the ongoing Dartmouth General renovations and the design for the new QEII complex.
The province will be receiving $110.3 million in revenue from the federal and municipal contributions to the downtown Halifax convention centre project upon completion in February 2017. That money will be applied to the debt this year, in order to make it easier for the province to borrow money to build a new hospital in the future
More money for daycares
The budget puts a focus on children’s early years — calling it the most “important years in a child’s development.” The province is committing $6.6 million more to subsidize childcare spaces and increase wage grants for early childhood educators.
There are no details on how the money will break down; how much money individual families will see, or what kind of wage increase daycare staff can expect, isn’t yet known. Education minister Karen Casey is set to release those details within two weeks.
Re-announcing more funding for sexual assault nurse examiners
The Liberals announced $700,000 for more sexual assault nurse examiners for the last year’s budget, but no nurses were hired and the money wasn’t spent. Instead, the government released a tender for organizations to start bidding on in April, which also happens to be the new fiscal year.
The 2016-17 budget re-announces the same funding increase, and puts it in the budget highlights twice for good measure. Despite the budget’s apparent focus on the program, the government says it has no timeline for when service providers will be chosen or when the new nurses will start working.
Currently, there are only sexual assault nurse examiners in Halifax and Antigonish. The service is crucial for evidence gathering following an alleged assault. There are no sexual assault nurses in Cape Breton or the Western Region of the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
Relief for people on income assistance
After two years with no increase to income assistance payments, all recipients will see a $20 increase to their monthly payments. The change benefits roughly 24,000 people in Nova Scotia and is the largest increase in recent memory.
There is no change in the shelter allowance but individuals receiving a personal allowance will now receive $275 per month, compared to $255 currently. Individuals with dependents between 18-20 years of age will also receive $20 more for that assistance, bringing that total to $275 as well.
Support payments for individuals with children will also go up based on an increase from the federal government but the exact amount isn’t yet known.
The first time recipients will see the increase will be in their June cheques.
The devil in the details
In December, the government’s fiscal update showed all major revenue sources were down from the April 2015 budget. The weaker financial picture was used as political cover by the Liberals to justify tabling wage legislation for the public sector – with a two-year wage freeze.
That negative outlook is all but gone from the 2016 budget. For example, in December the Liberals said personal income tax revenue was down $57 million from the April forecast. However, personal income tax revenue is now up from the April forecast by $39 million. The government says that $96 million difference is due to new information that it received in January and February.
After forecasting a revenue drop for every major tax base in December, all revenue sources, except corporate income tax, actually went up.