N.S. projects increased budget surplus of $34.5 million for 2018-19

N.S. projects increased budget surplus of $34.5 million for 2018-19 - image
Sarah Ritchie/ Global News

Nova Scotia’s projected surplus is up $5.1 million to $34.5-million for 2018-19, mainly due to energy giant Shell walking away from six offshore exploration licences.

In a budget forecast update released Thursday, Finance Minister Karen Casey said her department is projecting a $93.3-million increase in total revenue over the budget tabled in March – a figure that includes $60.4 million from Shell’s licence forfeiture, and a $30-million increase in personal income tax revenue due to “higher projected personal taxable income.”

The department said Shell was to spend $996 million in total, and the forfeiture figure represents a 25 per cent penalty on the $241 million that was left unspent by the company.

READ: Nova Scotia’s 2018 budget by the numbers

About $25.7 million of the forfeiture money is to be spent on a long-service award payout to 1,400 long-term care nurses, while Casey said the remainder – upwards of $36 million – will be spent at a later date as the government sees fit.

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“There are many projects that government considers,” said Casey. “Some of those do become projects that can be announced, and until they are it would be folly for us to announce them.”

Casey admitted it’s not the best way for the government to rake in revenue.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a happy windfall. I would say that it’s a forfeiture that’s come back to the government and we are going to be wise and prudent in how we use it.”

Casey’s reluctance to tip her hand on the use of the money drew fire from opposition critics.

“I think with all the questions that we’ve had in the house on the transparency of this government, and to actually say we have $36 million and we aren’t going to tell you what we are going to do with it is absolutely irresponsible,” said Progressive Conservative finance critic Chris d’Entremont.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill also questioned the government for being tight-lipped about its plans, saying there are plenty of areas that could use extra financial support.

“Particularly we see this in the world of health care, primary care, emergency care, long-term care,” Burrill said. “The investments are desperately needed and the government needs to focus less on the accumulation of a surplus and more on making the investments that are required.”

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WATCH: Nova Scotia’s 2018 budget projects $29.4M surplus boosted by cannabis sales

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Nova Scotia’s 2018 budget projects $29.4M surplus boosted by cannabis sales

Casey said departmental spending is expected to increase by $113.2 million, mainly due to $70.8 million more than originally budgeted for health care services including such things as increased ambulance call volumes and increased costs for special pharmaceutical drugs.

The government said additional appropriations totalling $115.9 million would be needed.

Total expenses are forecast at $10.95 billion – $88.4 million higher than the budget estimates.

Meanwhile, the projected excise tax on recreational cannabis has been revised down by $5.9 million from the budget because of the changing of the federal legalization date. In March the government had issued a rough projection of about $20.8 million in fresh taxes and duties from projected sales of about 12 million grams of cannabis.

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Casey said complicating matters in forecasting cannabis revenues is the fact that implementation costs still aren’t fully known yet.

The minister was asked whether that’s created concerns for future revenue projections.

“It’s one of those things that is very uncertain,” said Casey. “Those (projections) are all estimates, there are no concrete numbers yet.”

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