TORONTO - Premier Dalton McGuinty may be regretting that he didn't sign a budget pre-nup before his shotgun "happy marriage" to the New Democrats.
The minority Liberals and the NDP — who joined forces a mere month ago — are clashing over a pending vote on the budget bill, which has stalled in the legislature.
The minority Liberals have accused the NDP of blocking the legislation and breaking their vow to pass the budget.
But the New Democrats said they only agreed to allow the budget to pass its first hurdle in the legislature, so it could be debated and amended if necessary.
With the legislature set to rise June 7, there's little time left to implement key tax measures the NDP demanded, such as stopping a scheduled corporate tax cut on July 1 and hiking taxes for the wealthy.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan also warned that if the budget isn't passed by the summer, the province's credit rating and plan to slay its $15-billion deficit will be in jeopardy.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath offered a solution Thursday, saying she's prepared to fast-track the tax changes in a new piece of legislation separate from the massive 350-page budget bill.
But McGuinty, who crowed about his marriage of convenience with Horwath last month, said that wasn't part of the deal.
"We didn't come to the table with legal counsel," the premier said. "We didn't execute a duly notarized and witnessed contract in triplicate. But notwithstanding that, I feel we had an agreement."
He said he's confident Horwath is "honourable and trustworthy" — as far as their agreement is concerned — and will allow the budget to pass before the summer, if only to ensure her party's demands are implemented in time.
"So all we're asking the NDP to do is to honour an agreement which they entered," he said.
The premier's playing "make believe," Horwath replied.
"It's very clear that the government is trying to hold hostage these progressive tax measures and try to ram through the budget bill at the same time," she added.
"We think that is irresponsible. I've been clear from Day 1 that I want to see some scrutiny of that budget bill."
The party said it's concerned about changes to environmental protection rules and other measures that would allow for the privatization of public services.
But Horwath made it clear she's not looking to trigger an election by defeating the budget bill.
"You know the premier can stand there and say what he likes in terms of a conversation that happened, but he knows very well what needs to happen to move this process forward," she said.
"He needs to work with us. He can't go back to his same old way of doing things and saying it's my way or the highway, and then pointing fingers and accusing us of wanting to call an election."
What's In The Ontario Budget 2012
The 2012 Ontario budget freezes pay for doctors, and extends a pay freeze for health care executives. The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected. Increases in health care spending will be capped at 2.1 per cent per year.
The budget freezes pay for teachers. A pay freeze for educational executives, already in place, will be extended. School boards in low-population areas will be amalgamated, and "under-utilized" schools will be shut. Student transportation will be cut by $34 million.
The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected.
Welfare rates will be frozen and planned increases to the Ontario Child Benefit will be delayed.
There are no tax hikes in the 2012 Ontario budget, but it does freeze the corporate tax rate at 11.5 per cent, foregoing planned reductions in the tax rate to 10 per cent. The freeze is expected to save $1.5 billion over three years.
Ontario will cap the 10 per cent hydro bill rebate at 3,000 kilowatt-hours, a limit high enough that most homes won't be affected, but businesses could be. Reducing the tax credit will save $470 million over three years.
Crime & Security
On top of the four jails the province already plans to close, the budget adds two more to the closure list -- one in Brantford and one in Chatham. Overtime for jail guards and the Ontario Provincial Police will be reduced.
Ontario plans to reduce spending on business support programs by $250 million by merging a number of different programs.
Gambling & Lotteries
The province aims to increase revenue by increasing the number of gambling facilities. [Details to come]