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Pre-election budget toes the line
No new taxes for 2011; tobacco, liquor, property taxes to increase April 1

Tim Edwards
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 4, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The territorial budget for the coming year does not contain any big surprises, or new taxes, but it does show the government veering very close to an already expanded debt wall.

NNSL photo/graphic

Michael Miltenberger, minister of Finance, shows off his quill moccasins after presenting the territorial budget. Sporting fancy footwear is a tradition of finance ministers across the country when tabling budgets. - Tim Edwards/NNSL photo

Budget by the numbers
  • Total expenditures: Up to $1.34 billion from $1.3 billion last year
  • Forecasted revenues: Up to $1.36 billion from $1.32 billion last year
  • Total debt: Up to $515.8 million from $428.8 million last year

Expenditures by department, 2011 compared to 2010

  • Legislative Assembly: $18.9 million/$17.2 million
  • Executive: $15 million/$14.5 million
  • Human Resources: $42.4 million/$40 million
  • Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations: $7.6 million/$8.2 million
  • Finance: $100.8 million/$97.8 million
  • Municipal and Community Affairs: $93.3 million/$91.3 million
  • Public Works and Services: $93 million/$92.7 million
  • Health and Social Services: $344.5 million/$334.7 million
  • Justice: $106.2 million/$101.6 million
  • Education, Culture and Employment: $285.9 million/$274.2 million
  • Transportation: $110.8 million/105.1 million
  • Industry, Tourism and Investment: $53.3 million/$51.6 million
  • Environment and Natural Resources: $67.5 million/$72 million

New initiative highlights:

  • $1 million for a strategic plan on government employee recruitment and retention
  • $1.15 million to improve government service delivery and communication in French
  • $2.7 million in energy projects like mini-hydro facilities, biomass and geothermal projects
  • $1 million to carry out the Caribou Management Strategy
  • $100,000 to implement the new Wildlife Act
  • $150,000 for a lawyer to represent children in some custody and access disputes
  • $118,000 to fund a position to help people with cognitive disabilities who get in trouble with the law
  • $300,000 for a review the GNWT's policies on adequate and affordable housing, including declining social housing

Capital investment highlights:

  • $27.4 million for school replacements, renovations and additions
  • $50.7 million for highways and roads
  • $15.5 million for health infrastructure
  • $15.8 million for upgrades and renovations to GNWT buildings
  • $11.7 million for airport infrastructure improvements

The territory's debt is projected to reach about $515.8 million by the end of March 2012, up from last $428.8 million last year. That's close to $59 million away from the $575 million authorized debt limit, and the jump is mostly due to the Deh Cho Bridge.

"Sixty-seven per cent of that debt is self-financing," said Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger when he unveiled the final budget of the 16th legislative assembly to media on Thursday morning.

"When you look at the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, the housing corporation and the majority of the debt from the Deh Cho Bridge - that will be financed through the fees and tolls and revenue generated from those different areas."

The bridge will draw in an estimated $3.4 million in tolls per year based on last year's traffic across the Mackenzie River, but those estimates were not figured into this year's budget.

Total expenditures went up 2 per cent, below a self-imposed cap of 3 per cent, to $1.34 billion from $1.3 billion. Revenues have gone up 2.9 per cent to $1.36 billion from $1.32 billion.

Miltenberger's proposed strategy to reduce the massive debt is to keep that 3 per cent cap on expenditures, and reduce capital investment to $75 million per year starting next year. This year's budget for capital projects, approved last fall, is $171 million. Last year's was $443 million, with most of the money coming from the federal government's economic action plan in the wake of the recession.

"The plan we are laying on the table and leaving for consideration is that of going back down to more manageable, affordable levels of infrastructure," said Miltenberger,

Though there will be no new taxes, the government expects to bring in $1.8 million from tobacco taxes, property taxes and liquor mark-ups that will be adjusted to inflation on April 1.

"We are managing with the money we have, and some of the modest revenues we're going to pick up," said Miltenberger.

In expenditures, there is $16.9 million in new investments, such as a $75,000 pilot program to expand respite care services across the territory and over $85 million to continue ongoing investments, such as $300,000 for firefighting and emergency management training in NWT communities.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said it's a budget that recognizes the government is in a tight financial situation.

"Sixty million dollars (away from the debt limit) is an extremely small cushion when you compare it to 1.34 billion (in expenditures)," said Bromley.

The introduction of a territorial heritage fund, albeit one that will be empty for the time being, was a highlight of the budget for Northern Territories Federation of Labour President Mary Lou Cherwaty. The fund will allot savings for the future of the territory.

"I think that residents of the NWT have been asking for that for a long time," she said.

She was also happy to see $150,000 go toward establishing an Office of the Children's lawyer, to provide legal representation to a child when a judge deems the child needs it, in cases of custody and parental access disputes.

"The more serious concerns that I have in the budget are the comments about restraining measures in labour costs. I don't know exactly what that's going to mean in the long run," Cherwaty said.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said he was happy to see the government is going to look into the actual financial viability of the Taltson hydroelectric dam expansion.

"I recommended that in the hearings, so it's good to hear that they're listening there," said Van Tighem.

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