Finance Minister Stan Struthers shakes hands with Premier Greg Selinger after introducing the budget. Tuesday, April 17, 2012.
Credits: CHRIS PROCAYLO/QMI AGENCY
WINNIPEG - The NDP calls it "balanced," the Opposition describes it as a "failure," and the business lobby calls it "bland."
While the colourful descriptions change, Manitobans will certainly be paying more for gasoline, smokes and haircuts while the NDP increases spending by nearly 3% this year.
On Tuesday, the government revealed the 2012-2013 budget, a spending blueprint that calls for a host of tax hikes.
Fuel taxes are going up by 2.5 cents a litre beginning May 1. Motorists will pay 14 cents a litre for gasoline and diesel, up from 11.5 cents.
The provincial sales tax will also be expanded to include services such as aesthetic treatments like pedicures and haircuts over $50. The PST will be expanded to include property and group life insurance. It's the third time the NDP has expanded the PST to services since 2000.
Tobacco taxes are also going up 2.5 cents per cigarette, or 63 cents for a pack of 25.
Motorists will not only be hit with higher fuel taxes as the NDP is also increasing vehicle registration by $35 a year.
All told, Manitobans will pay $182 million more in taxes as a result of this budget, dismissed as a "failure" by the Opposition Tories.
"Families are starting to pay now for NDP tax-and-spend policies," said Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, who is stepping aside when a new party boss is chosen this year.
"When you're increasing taxes on Manitobans who are the highest taxed Canadians west of Quebec, you're failing."
The spending blueprint, which calls for an overall 2.9% increase in spending over the previous fiscal year, announced some modest cost cuts, including reducing the number of regional health authorities to five from 11 and merging the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission and Manitoba Lotteries Corporation.
Finance Minister Stan Struthers said the measures will help government balance its books by 2014.
"We will meet this target and we will do so without reckless cuts to core services," Struthers said.
The cuts don't go far enough, suggested the chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
"This is a budget which tinkers, it's tinkering with different departments, it's not setting out a bold visionary path to prosperity," said Brian Bowman, a lawyer who is a partner at a major Winnipeg firm.
"The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce was looking for a bold budget, sadly, we got a bland budget. It was a lost opportunity for the province to really make some difficult decisions."
The government is projecting a deficit of $504 million this year in its core government operations. That's virtually unchanged from last year's budget which projected a deficit of $514 million.
Struthers, who characterized his government's spending as a "balanced approach," blamed last year's spring flooding and the federal government's budget for the province's financial woes.
"These are uncertain times," said Struthers. "The effects of last year's flood are still being felt."
The budget also confirmed workers earning minimum wage will get a 25-cent raise on Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, Struthers also announced the province will loosen restrictions on Sunday shopping. The government will consult with the public, business and labour groups before deciding on specific changes.