CTV News: N.B. projects modest $35.2-million surplus; budget focuses on housing, health care and tax relief

Posted March 24, 2022

FREDERICTON - The Blaine Higgs’ government’s fourth budget is focused on housing, health care and some tax relief for low-income earners, with COVID-19 costs now being absorbed into department operations.

The 2022-23 budget is projecting a 35.2-million surplus, which is much lower than the last quarter’s three estimates of almost $488 million.

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves says spending is up 5.5 per cent, while revenues are projected to grow by just 1.2 per cent. GDP growth for the upcoming year is estimated at 2.2 per cent.

This budget will not pay down the province’s $13-billion net debt; rather, it’s projected to add $15 million, with a plan to decrease the debtload by $36 million in 2024-25. Steeves says the province is on the cusp of reaching 800,000 people.

HEALTH CARE

“While I wish I could say that this period of uncertainty is behind us, we know that COVID-19 will continue to be part of our daily lives,” stated Steeves.

The Department of Health will see a 6.4-per-cent increase in its budget -- an addition of about $194 million. However, the COVID-19 response will now be absorbed into pre-existing infrastructure, such as the province’s immunization program. Steeves says an extra $20 million will be added to that program so it can take on COVID-19 vaccines.

Last year, COVID-19 cost the province $134 million across all departments. This year, no money has been specifically set aside.

New Brunswick’s mental health crisis care response services will increase by $1.9 million, after the province spent $7 million last year to increase services. Another $38 million will be set aside to get the Provincial Health Plan underway.

HOUSING

A nominal $6.3 million is earmarked for affordable housing, but Steeves said the focus is on reducing provincial property tax rates -- something promised prior to the pandemic.

The provincial property tax rate will be reduced by 50 per cent over three years for non-owner occupied residential properties, like apartment buildings, while 15 per cent reductions are planned for other residential properties, like nursing homes, and non-residential properties.

Willy Scholten, president of the New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association, said the tax cut might look positive on the surface but added, "the devil was in the details."

"There will only be a decrease in taxes of approximately six per cent while they’ve increased assessments by 30 per cent," said Scholten. "So the big picture is taxes are going up tremendously for landlords after this announcement this year."

Property owners will see the change on their bills issued April 1. The province says the reduction will cost $45 million this year and $112 million once the three phases are complete.

"While we are confident that the market will catch up with demand, and the property tax measures we have introduced today will help, our government acknowledges that more needs to be done for renters," Steeves said.

Retroactive to Jan. 1, the province is placing a one-year cap on rent increases of 3.8 per cent.

"I would only commit to one year at this point and we’ll see what happens," said Steeves. "There’s an awful lot of stuff going on in the world and it’s hard to predict where we’ll be."

Sarah Lunney, a spokesperson for ACORN New Brunswick, said a lower rent cap had been hoped for.

"For ACORN, we initially had been calling for two per cent, that was kind of the bare minimum we thought the government could do," said Lunney. "It would be great to see it lower but that’s where we’re at right now. It will be interesting to see how they will actually implement it."

WAGE INCREASES AND TAX RELIEF

Steeves says, due to looming increases in the carbon tax, the New Brunswick government is increasing the basic personal amount for low-income earners.

Now, anyone who makes less than $19,177 will not pay personal income tax for 2022, up from $18,268.

Those who work in special care, home support, community residences, family support, group homes, attendant care and employment and support service agencies will see wage increases, according to Steeves. He didn’t say how much, only adding that it will cost the province about $38.6 million.

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Article by Laura Brown and Nick Moore for CTV News Atlantic

 

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