10/14/2014 01:08 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST

Manitoba Liberals would spend tax increase money on municipal roads, bridges

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari says she would not rescind the province's recent sales tax increase if she were elected premier, but would instead use it exclusively for municipal infrastructure.

Bokhari announced her first election promise Monday, even though the next election is not expected until April 2016.

"We want to dedicate that (money) to municipalities in an infrastructure fund that would be transparent. Money can't be shifted out of it. It would be there only for municipalities, to be transferred to them on a per-capita basis."

The NDP government raised the sales tax last year to eight per cent from seven. The move pumps roughly $200 million a year into the government's general revenues. The province has promised to spend it all on infrastructure — not just municipal work, but provincial projects as well, such as highways and flood-protection measures.

The Liberal promise to put the money in a separate fund and give to municipal governments was welcomed by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

"We just think there's a big priority right now for (municipal) water, sewer, highways, recreation centres," said Joe Masi, the group's executive director.

The Liberals hold only one of the 57 legislature seats, but hope to make gains under Bokhari, who was elected leader a year ago. Recent opinion polls suggest the party is at or near the 20 per cent mark in popular support — far above the 7.5 per cent they scored in the 2011 election.

Bokhari's news conference Monday was her first in several months. She has kept a low media profile since taking over the party leadership and has instead spent time meeting with community groups and grassroots Liberals.

The event appears to mark the beginning of a more aggressive approach. The promise was billed as the first of many Liberal pre-election policy announcements to come.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives have promised to rescind the sales tax hike if they are elected. Tory Leader Brian Pallister has said the government has the money it needs for infrastructure. He recently pointed to the government's own financial reports, which said the province collected $190 million last year from the sales tax hike and spent $115 million of it on infrastructure.