A document from Budget 2012: People and Prosperity – Responsible Investments for a Secure Future. The 2012 provincial budget was delivered today by Finance Minister Tom Marshall. — Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram
Despite announcing last year it would work towards replacing the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s, government through Budget 2012 puts more money into the aging facility.
Some $750,000 is earmarked for the redevelopment of the forensic unit at the Waterford Hospital, the key mental health facility for the province.
This year’s budget will spend a total of $3 billion on health-care services for everyone in the province, which is $100 million more than what was actually spent in fiscal 2011-12.
The dialysis service is being expanded again this year, specifically:
• $1 million for Harbour Breton;
• $327,000 for the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony and the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay;
• $319,000 for the Carbonear General Hospital; and,
• $248,100 for Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook.
“We have heard from our residents and we have identified dialysis enhancements as a priority for this government,” Minister Susan Sullivan said in a news release. “In 2003, the province had a capacity for 340 patients on hemodialysis at seven sites and we can now accommodate 531 patients at 14 sites throughout the province.”
The province is also expanding the breast cancer screening program to include women aged 40-49, but they must be referred by their primary health-care provider to the program. A total investment of $508,600 will support this expansion, including the addition of a new mammography unit for James Paton Memorial Hospital in Gander.
More money is also being pumped into the prescription drug program — $4.4 million for the coverage of new drug therapies.
Some $5 million has already been announced to reduce wait times for joint replacement surgeries and in emergency departments, including $1.4 million for the first year of the joint replacement strategy and $3.6 million for year one of the emergency department strategy.
Home support will see spending of $18.3 million in Budget 2012.
• $14 million to address anticipated demand in 2012-13 as more seniors are accessing and applying to the program;
• $3.8 million to increase the current home support hourly subsidy rate from $12 to $12.2 5 and the financial ceilings for clients to ensure the maximum hours of care are maintained.
• $508,900 for 12 additional positions in the regional health authorities to deliver home support and other community support services clients.
In infrastructure spending related to health facilities, some $230.5 million will be spent on repairs, renovations, equipment and construction.
Many of the projects have already been announced and include addiction treatment centres for adults and youth, renovations at the emergency department at St. Clare’s hospital in St. John’s.
Other projects at various stages from planning to construction include those at Marystown, Corner Brook, Grand Falls-Windsor, Flowers Cove and Glovertown.
Budget 2012 also includes $81.1 million for the ongoing development of five long-term care infrastructure projects — St. John’s, Lewisporte, Carbonear, Corner Brook and Bonavista.
Natural resource projects are going to continue to drive the availability of construction jobs, with the start of work on the Hebron oil project and peak construction at Vale’s processing facility in Long Harbour.
Mining-related employment is to increase by at least 13 per cent this year “due mainly to increases at the Long Harbour nickel processing facility and IOC,” according to the government’s economic outlook document. Peak employment of about 3,500 jobs at the site is set for the second quarter of 2012, with the number dropping by end of year.
“Construction investment is expected to post another record performance in 2012 with spending of $7.5 billion. Investment growth will be the strongest among provinces,” the government’s outlook has stated.
Meanwhile, the provincial government will be spending $4.1 million to develop the number of journeyperson-level workers in the province.
The money will go towards introducing a Journeyperson Mentorship Program “to provide required workplace training for apprentices,” the expansion of the Apprenticeship Wage Subsidy Program and the introduction of the registration of “pre-apprentices” in an apprenticeship tracking system.
Details as to how the mentorship program will work were offered to reporters by the Department of Advanced Education Minister Joan Burke. More will be available in Wednesday’s print edition.
The budget includes $200,000 to develop a Workforce Development Secretariat, “which will focus on ensuring that labour market policies and programs are strategically aligned to develop and deploy a highly trained and skilled workforce that can meet evolving labour demands,” states a government release.
The province has noted there are an expected 70,000 job openings to come in the next 10 years in the province, according to labour market studies.
Improvements in transportation will be central to government spending in Labrador this year.
A total of $350,000 will go towards the Labrador Transportation Grooming Subsidy, providing winter roads for otherwise isolated communities, while the travel subsidy program for athletes and sports teams will continue.
As stated in a March 30 pre-budget announcement, the Trans-Labrador Highway Phase 1 is set to be completed — with the last two tenders being called at a cost of $65.8 million.
A commitment made in last year’s budget to cleaning up the former U.S. military site at Hopedale will be fulfilled, with $2 million to be spent on the work this year.
The province will be continuing to fund the Air Foodlift Subsidy, at a cost of $230,000. The subsidy assists with getting key goods to isolated areas and kicked in for communities on the south and southeast coasts earlier this year, when pack ice stopped ferry crossings in the Strait of Belle Isle.
Other expenditures for Labrador will come in the area of health care, including the completion of the new hospital in Labrador West (at a cost of $25.7 million this year). There will also be spending in attempts to protect the George River Caribou Herd and to support various government offices.
Seniors in the province are getting a break on their vehicle permits and drivers’ licences.
And for those over age 65 who like to hunt and fish, the benefit is even bigger.
Budget 2012 saves $3.7 million in total for seniors aged 65 and over through a 35 per cent cut in driver’s licence and vehicle registration fees, and other licences and fees for such things as hunting, fishing, cutting wood and camping.
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• Vehicle registration fees reduced from $126 to $82 for online processing and $140 to $91 for in-person processing.
• Driver’s licence fee reduced from $100 to $65.
• Big game licences (moose and caribou) reduced from $40 to $26;
• Black bear licences reduced from $27 to $17.55.
• Salmon angling licences reduced from $17 to $11.0.
• Serviced campsite monthly fees reduced from $565 to $367.25. There will also be a reduction in nightly and weekly camping fees, as well as in vehicle entry fees at provincial parks.
In other measures to bolster the pocketbooks of seniors and the poor, the provincial government has said social assistance (income support) recipients will no longer have to tap into Canada Pension Plan benefits at age 60, which saves them $500,000 in income by waiting until age 65 to draw that pension.
There’s also $5.1 million to continue to index social assistance rates to help ease the cost-of-living.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. will get $30 million through poverty reduction spending to administer programs for social housing as well as allowing low-income earners to maintain their homes or pay their rent.
• $1 million in additional funding to expand the rent supplement program.
• $1.8 million for the rent-geared-to-income adjustment program, which helps to keep more disposable income in the hands of lower-income tenants;
• $892,000 in eight housing community centres and 11 neighbourhood centres;
• $1 million investment in the Provincial Homelessness Fund; and,
• $4 million investment for the residential energy efficiency program.
• $8 million to the provincial home repair program.
• $5.4 million to build 245 additional affordable housing units.
Women’s centres and other specialized non-profits that tackle violence and social awareness will also see their government funding increased.
Budget 2012 also puts another $6.7 million in the adult dental program, which provides enhanced diagnostic and therapeutic dental services for vulnerable people, incuding seniors and social assistance recipients.
The province is also continuing the specialized family violence court and will increase the budget of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Internet child exploitation unit by almost $400,000.
A new funding formula between the province and municipalities likely won’t materialize for at least another two years, according to the finance minister.
Mayors and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador have been clamouring for a new funding model for towns and cities for months.
But in today’s provincial budget, all they received was a commitment to keep discussing the issue.
“The province will continue to consult with municipalities on the development of a new formula that is equitable and sustainable,” states the budget documents.
However, Finance Minister Tom Marshall told reporters this morning a new formula would likely not be in the cards until the province returns to a budget surplus, which is projected not to happen until two years from now.
Municipalities did get $130 million, over two years, for municipal infrastructure projects in the budget.
Communities will also see their municipal operating grants stay at the same level as last year — a total of $17.8 million. That maintains a $4.6 million increase announced in the 2011 budget.
But municipal leaders in the province did not get the provincial portion of the HST rebate they were asking for, nor did they get a share of the provincial gas tax.
The province’s roads, bridges, ferries and buildings will get a cash infusion of almost $900 million, according to the provincial budget.
But that’s a decrease of about 10 per cent from what the province spent on infrastructure last year.
Of the $885.8 million, $165 million will go towards roads and bridges, and just over $30 million will go towards ferries, wharves and their repairs.
Also announced in the budget was $230.5 in health-care infrastructure, including long-term care facilities, while the education sector received $115 million towards new facilities.
There was another $2 million announced towards the rural broadband initiative to improve Internet service to remote areas.
According to the province, infrastructure projects announced in budget 2012 will mean 6,600 person years of employment.
A number of Northeast Avalon communities could be getting new schools.
Budget 2012 includes $6.9 million in new funding for school infrastructure, and that will include "planning for potential new schools" in Portugal Cove-St.Philip’s, Paradise, Conception Bay South and the Torbay area.
The expenditure is part of $866.9 million in the budget for early childhood learning and the K-12 school system.
That's just over $18 million more than last year's fiscal plan.
The budget contains over $100 million for school construction and repair.
As well, it continues funding for free textbooks, the elimination of school fees and the early childhood learning strategy, Learning from the Start.
A budget news release noted the Department of Education is spending more than 62 per cent of the K-12 budget on teacher salaries and services, as well as substitutes and student assistants.
There was some good news for post-secondary students in today's provincial budget.
Tuition freezes, and loans and grants were continued, and post-secondary students can now earn more while studying without impacting their loans or grants.
Students can now make $100 a week, double the previous amount.
The measures are part of the province's $66 million expenditure to reduce student debt.
Other post-secondary commitments include expanded programming at Marine Institute, the expansion of Memorial's faculty of engineering, the continued construction and maintenance of university residences in St. John's and Corner Brook, and infrastructure improvements at MUN and College of the North Atlantic.
These expenditures total almost $70 million.
For reaction, see Wednesday's Telegram.