A budget with winners and losers

March 3, 2016   ·   0 Comments

THE BIG NEWS in the latest provincial budget was the new charge of 4.3 cents per litre on gasoline and diesel fuel that’s portrayed as a measure designed to combat climate change.

The argument being advanced by Premier Kathleen Wynne and her finance minister, Charles Sousa, is that the revenue coming from the charge, which most see as a tax, will be a crucial part of a cap-and-trade scheme that will lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

However, so long as crude oil is selling for about $30 (US) a barrel, and prices at the pump stay below $1 a litre, the new tax will hardly be noticed any more than the usual unexplained fluctuations in pump prices.

A lot more noticeable will be a new charge of 3.3 cents per cubic metre to be tacked on bills paid by natural gas households – a whopping $60 a year for a typical consumer that seems designed mainly to narrow the current huge gap between the cost of heating by natural gas and electricity.

Also widely noticed was the budget’s promise of free post secondary education for children from low income families. However, Monday’s Toronto Star noted that no similar assistance is being made available for low-income families whose kids aren’t getting ready for college.

“Rarely has a Liberal government in Ontario tabled a less child-friendly budget,” the Star editorial led off.  “The highlights of the province’s 2016 financial plan – a cap-and-trade carbon-pricing scheme and free college and university tuition for lower-income students – overshadowed the absence of help for children in need.”

The budget was silent on the issue of affordable child care, apart from noting that “full-day kindergarten helps families manage their time.” The editorial noted that in Toronto alone there are 16,802 eligible children “in the queue.”

Asserting that investing in child care would have “a double payback,” the Star said it would improve “the life chances of low-income kids” while freeing their mothers to work. “Without out a strong start, many disadvantaged kids don’t complete high school, let alone go on to college or university.”

The editorial also deplored the absence of more help for Ontario’s 47 children’s aid societies and more money for our clogged courts.

“There was no funding to alleviate the massive backlog in the province’s courts. This leaves thousands of young Ontarians, charged but not convicted, in pre-trial custody. Judges, lawyers and prison reform advocates have urged the government to speed up the trial process. But without more courtrooms, that isn’t likely to happen. The logjam takes its heaviest toll on young offenders from poor families who can’t come up with the bail to get out jail until their court date.”

However, there’s no doubt that a government struggling to find ways of balancing its books in its 2017-18 fiscal year will shy away from committing to the billions of additional dollars needed to fix those two huge problem areas.

All told, it’s a $133.9-billion spending plan that projects a $4.3-billion deficit to be added to the existing provincial debt of $296.1 billion.

The free university and college tuition will be available for families with an annual household income under $50,000, while more than half of the students from families making $83,000 or less will get grants that will exceed their tuition.

Other budget highlights:

• A tax increase of $3 a carton of 200 cigarettes with future increases indexed to inflation.

• Taxes on wine will be raised by an average of 10 cents a bottle as part of an expansion of sales in supermarkets.

• An end to two tax credits, one designed to encourage seniors to renovate their homes so they can stay in them longer, the other a children’s activity tax credit, which gave families an average of $70 for sports, arts, and cultural programs used by their kids.

• Enhanced hospital funding – a $345-million increase, the first in five years.

• Free shingles vaccinations for seniors between 65 and 70, saving them $170.

• A $70 increase, to $170, in what most seniors will have to pay for prescription drugs before qualifying for public drug benefits.

• A $25-a-month increase for single persons on Ontario Works and a 1.5 per cent increase for others on welfare or social assistance.

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