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Nova Scotia Liberals post second surplus, under-spend on health and education

Click to play video 'Nova Scotia post second surplus, under-spend on key departments' Nova Scotia post second surplus, under-spend on key departments
WATCH ABOVE: As promised the Nova Scotia Liberals are predicting a balanced budget for the second year in a row. But as Marieke Walsh reports they didn’t do everything they promised – Apr 27, 2017

As promised the Nova Scotia Liberals are predicting a balanced budget for the second year in a row.

The surplus for this year is more than double what the government forecast –up by $23.7 million to $40.8.

READ MORE: How will the Nova Scotia budget hit your pocket book?

The extra surplus is due to an additional $16 million in revenues, and savings from departments of $7.7 million.

The government could have posted a much bigger surplus but instead spent an additional $69.1 million since December. The money was spent on various projects including renovations at the Lunenburg Yacht Club and the Research Nova Scotia Trust.

The $69.1 million was found, in part, from savings from interest payments paid on Nova Scotia’s debts and the public sector pension valuation adjustment.

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READ MORE: Liberal government loses support as Nova Scotia election looms: Poll

For the coming year, the province is predicting a $25.9 million surplus.

WATCH:The Nova Scotia government released their budget today and as Jennifer Grudic reports they focused a large part of it on education.
Click to play video 'Education a large focus of new Nova Scotia budget' Education a large focus of new Nova Scotia budget
Education a large focus of new Nova Scotia budget – Apr 27, 2017

It includes new spending for breakfast programs, tax cuts for low income people, and a break for small businesses.

Spending is going up in line with the money the government has coming in from taxes and federal revenues. Both are increasing at 3.1 per cent.

Nova Scotia is among five provinces that posted a balanced budget this year. The others are Quebec, B.C., P.E.I., and Ontario.

Second balanced budget relies on outstanding union contracts

Nova Scotia has more than 300 outstanding public sector contracts – most of them are in health care and also include civil servants.

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The budget assumes all of the agreements will follow the compensation package outlined in the Liberals wage legislation – Bill 148. It was never proclaimed but the teachers contract legislated in February included a similar wage package.

The province has booked $42 million per year since last year in savings because of the freeze of the long service award.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia premier defends health-care system, as Doctors list litany of concerns

Government under-spends on hospital infrastructure again

Last year the province under-spent on its planned hospital renovations by more than 50 per cent.

The budget pegged hospital infrastructure spending at $34.1 million for the last year, but the health department is only forecasting that $16.9 million of that will be spent.

This is the fourth consecutive year that spending on hospital bricks and mortar is down by half or more. The department said the delay in spending is due to the reorganization of the health authorities from nine districts to one.

Officials said projects that were delayed, like renovations on the South Shore Regional Hospital, are now moving ahead and delays in capital spending will end.

The department is committing to spend $47.5 million on hospital infrastructure this year.

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Work-to-rule delays spending in education

The education department under-spent by $5.2 million – the department attributes that to the teachers’ work to rule campaign which is said stopped a lot of policies from going ahead that required collaboration from teachers.

For example, the department said a planned curriculum review for grades 7 and 8 didn’t go ahead as planned.

The savings is from not having to hire substitute teachers while full time teachers worked with the department on various projects.