10/01/2012 03:29 EDT | Updated 12/01/2012 05:12 EST

Halfway through fiscal year, Manitoba government still looking for savings

WINNIPEG - With its fiscal year half over, the Manitoba government is still trying to find many of the spending cuts promised in last spring's budget.

The government has identified $66 million of $128 million it wants to cut in program spending, but has yet to sell off any of a promised $80 million in government assets, Finance Minister Stan Struthers said Monday.

Still, he said he is committed to meeting his goal.

"We think we're on track to get there, and we have some tools between now and the end of the fiscal year to do that, and we'll do it in such a way that we protect services to Manitobans."

Struthers released a list of measures taken so far.

The province is saving $12.1 million by using more generic prescription drugs and has saved $3 million by deferring funding to some university and college construction projects. Another $11 million is being saved through the merger of regional health authorities.

The province is also suspending some advertising and is publishing more information online instead of in printed documents.

Some vacant public-sector jobs will be cut, Struthers said, although there will be no layoffs.

"There are vacant positions now that we can eliminate and repriorize within the civil service."

If jobs are cut, it would reverse a trend that has seen the civil service grow over the last two years to 15,300 from 14,890, according to a recent report from the province's Civil Service Commission.

Critics accused Struthers of falling behind and said the longer he waits to implement cuts, the less the government will save before the budget year ends next March.

"This is far too slow. The finance minister should have been on top of this months ago, much earlier in the fiscal year," Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said.

"We haven't seen any indication that they're going to meet their targets so far, and they didn't last year," added Reg Helwer, acting finance critic for the Progressive Conservatives.

The cuts are an integral part of Struthers's budget and are needed to keep the province's deficit from rising beyond the $448 million forecast in the spring.

He did not release a revised deficit prediction Monday. That will come when he releases his second-quarter fiscal update near the end of December.