TORONTO — Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the Ontario budget on Thursday. Here are some of the highlights:
— The budget deficit for fiscal year 2015-16 is expected to come in at $5.7 billion, down from the last estimate of $7.5 billion
— The deficit for 2016-17 is projected to come in at $4.6 billion and be reduced to zero the following fiscal year
— Ontario's net debt will hit $308 billion in 2016-17, the largest of any sub-national jurisdiction in the world, costing $11.8 billion in interest payments, which will increase to $13.1 billion by 2018-19
— Income from the cap-and-trade plan to battle climate change is expected to hit $1.9 billion in 2017, up from last year's projection of $1.3 billion
— University and college tuition will be free for students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less, and more than half of students from families with incomes up to $83,000 will receive non-repayable grants that exceed the average tuition — mostly students who live on their own
— There will be a $3 increase in the price of a carton of 200 cigarettes, effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the tobacco tax will keep rising at the rate of inflation each year over the next five years.
— The minimum price for a bottle of wine rises to $7.95, and there will be a series of increases in the LCBO's mark-up on wine, starting with a two percentage point hike in June — about 10 cents a bottle — followed by another two percentage points in 2017 and 2018, with a one-point hike in 2019
— There will also be annual increases of about 10 cents in the tax on wine sold in private retail outlets, increasing from 16.1 cents to 20.1 cents over four years
— The $30 fee for Drive Clean vehicle emissions tests will be eliminated in 2017-18, but not the tests themselves, which will cost the province $60 million a year.
— Hospitals will get their first funding increase in five years, up $345 million, plus $12 billion over 10 years in capital grants for about three dozen major hospital projects
— Single seniors earning up to $19,300 per year will be eligible for cheaper drugs starting in August, compared with the previous threshold of $16,018. Couples with an income of up to $32,300 will also be eligible, where before only those earning $24,175 qualified. The costs will be offset by raising deductibles and co-payments for seniors above the new income thresholds. Annual deductibles will rise to $170 from $100 and co-payments will increase by a dollar to $7.11.
— There will be $333 million over five years to redesign and improve autism services