12/13/2012 06:46 EST | Updated 02/12/2013 05:12 EST

Manitoba government will once again change the law to protect cabinet pay

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government will once again change its balanced budget law to ease the pay cuts cabinet ministers face for running deficits.

Under provincial law, the top-up salary that cabinet ministers receive — separate from the base salary given to all legislature members — is cut by 20 per cent for a first annual deficit and 40 per cent for every consecutive deficit thereafter.

In 2010, the NDP government announced it would start running deficits until 2015, and suspended many aspects of the balanced budget law, including the pay cut. Cabinet ministers then took a voluntary 20-per-cent cut until 2015.

This week, the government announced it would run deficits for two more years — until 2017.

Premier Greg Selinger confirmed Thursday the law will be changed so that the pay cut remains at 20 per cent, not 40 per cent, until 2017.

"That's the plan, yes," Selinger said in an interview from Minneapolis, where he was attending a forum on water quality.

"There will be a reduction of the cabinet ministers' salaries in the order of 20 per cent to reflect the fact we're not back in balance."

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said it was disappointed to learn the pay-cut penalty was again being tinkered with.

"It's a little bit like the premier having the ability to rip up his own speeding ticket," said Colin Craig, the federation's spokesman.

"The penalty was in place to make sure the government would be responsible with tax dollars. So for them to just basically cut the penalty in half is taking the easy way out."

For most cabinet ministers, the pay cut at 40 per cent would work out to $14,698. The 20-per-cent cap means the penalty is reduced to $7,349.

For the premier, who earns more money, the pay cut would normally be $22,377 but is capped at $11,188. Selinger's total pay, after the penalty, is slightly above $131,000. It's among the lowest of Canada's premiers, according to Manitoba's independent commissioner for legislature members pay, allowances and benefits.

Selinger said the deficits are needed to cope with the global recession, and pointed out that almost every province remains in the red.

"The global recovery from the recession has been slower than anticipated ... and we're making adjustments accordingly."