Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Smokes, Haircuts and Gas to Cost More as Manitoba Tables Deficit Budget: Smokes and Gas to Cost More in Manitoba

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Smokes, Haircuts and Gas to Cost More as Manitoba Tables Deficit Budget: Smokes and Gas to Cost More in Manitoba

Article excerpt

WINNIPEG - Manitobans will pay more for gas, cigarettes and spa treatments as the NDP government struggles to slay a $1-billion deficit by hiking taxes and user fees.

In its budget tabled Tuesday, the province is boosting fees for land titles, birth, marriage and death certificates to bring in an extra $7 million.

Gas taxes are going up 2.5 cents a litre while smokers will pay 63 cents more per pack. Money raised through the gas tax, which has been frozen for almost two decades, will go directly to fixing the province's roads and bridges.

The NDP is also expanding the seven per cent provincial sales tax to include some forms of insurance and cosmetic services such as pedicures, manicures, haircuts, tattoos and piercings.

The province is also pledging to loosen its strict 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday shopping hours -- the most stringent in the country, according to the government. The plan is to start consultations with the aim of having new hours in place by Boxing Day.

Hidden in budget papers, the government said it is hoping to raise $75 million through the unspecified sale of provincial assets, which could include some government buildings.

"These are uncertain times," said Finance Minister Stan Struthers. "The effects of last year's flood are still being felt. There is upheaval in the global economy and the federal government has made our work harder by freezing transfers and cutting jobs here in Manitoba."

The NDP were immediately criticized for asking financially strapped taxpayers to shoulder the government's spending increases. Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen called the budget a classic "tax-and-spend" blueprint.

"They're increasing the cost of gasoline, which has already gone up by more than 10 per cent in the first few months of the year," he said. "Hydro rates are going up greater than the rate of inflation. This is a government that has an out-of-control spending problem and Manitoba families are now being asked to pay for that."

The government will take $56 million out of its rainy-day fund but will still run a projected deficit of $460 million in 2012-13. Despite modest projected revenue growth, Struthers is forecasting the province will go from its $1-billion deficit this current fiscal year to a $23-million surplus in 2014 as it promised in last fall's election.

"We will meet this target and we will do so without reckless cuts to core services."

The province is trying to rein in spending by merging 11 regional health authorities into five, which Struthers said will eliminate about 35 executive positions. Manitoba is also freezing or cutting the budgets in 10 of its smaller departments such as Aboriginal Affairs, Conservation and Family Services.

Manitoba will also merge the liquor commission with the lotteries corporation as it reduces government agencies. Struthers said the NDP will slice the cost of government by cutting travel costs, deferring wage increases and slashing office expenses for legislative assembly members. …

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