NEWS
05/01/2014 04:14 EDT | Updated 07/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontario budget 2014 holds few surprises from Liberals

Amid lower-than-expected revenues, a hefty deficit and modest economic growth, the Liberals are pushing plans to invest tens of billions in transit and infrastructure over the next 10 years and to create a new provincially based pension plan. Along with those big-ticket items, the government wants to increase income taxes for Ontarians making $150,000 a year or more, while boosting both the Ontario Child Benefit and social assistance payments.

The Liberals are presenting the budget as part of a long-term plan to put Ontario in a position to thrive in the future. To that end, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said there is need to drive growth, to ensure that Ontario has the modern infrastructure it needs and that the conditions are in place for business to succeed. 

It will also take the support of the New Democrats in order for it to pass, as the Progressive Conservatives have said they will vote against the budget and the minority Liberals don't have enough members to get it through the legislature on their own.

PC Leader Tim Hudak told reporters that the budget was merely "a series of promises," without a plan to create jobs and that included the proposed pension plan.

"Before you can have retirement security, you need job security," he said.

Deficit to climb

Yet Sousa insisted to reporters that the province still intends to balance its budget by 2017-18, a scenario that Hudak recently suggested the Liberals had simply "given up" on.

The governing Liberals had telegraphed many of the key spending plans ahead of Thursday and so had the Progressive Conservatives, courtesy of internal documents they obtained weeks ago.

Infrastructure investment plans

Some of the money for these transit projects will come from a portion of redirected gas-tax revenues,  as well as from the HST revenues associated with gas and diesel fuels. The government would also look to "targeted revenue measures" that would include increasing taxes on aviation fuel and restricting big businesses from claiming a small business deduction. Further funds would be raised through borrowing and by seeking federal assistance.

More than $11 billion in capital grants for schools will be provided in the next 10 years. Some of these funds will help build new schools in rapidly growing parts of the GTHA and Ottawa.

Retirement concerns

The government says that some two-thirds of Ontarians are not part of workplace pension plans, which means they are having to rely on their own savings, the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security support in their retirement years. But many people are unable to save the money they need to uphold their standard of living in retirement.

The budget indicates that the proposed pension plan would collect equal contributions from workers and their employers. The government says that it is seeking to create a plan that could be wrapped into the CPP in future, should things change at the federal level.

Fate of government rests with New Democrats

If the New Democrats vote against the budget, the province will be plunged into an election. But without reaction from Horwath on Thursday, it is unclear on how likely an immediate trip to the polls is.

This year, Horwath and Premier Kathleen Wynne appeared more publicly distant, with the premier indicating on Wednesday that the differences between the parties were "just a reality" they had to deal with. But the premier said she hoped that the budget would pass.

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