03/31/2015 12:31 EDT | Updated 05/31/2015 01:12 EDT

New Brunswick forecasts $477M deficit, hikes gas taxes, cuts teaching jobs

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's Liberal government has introduced an $8.6-billion budget that increases taxes for the wealthy, bumps up the price of fuel, promises to close some courthouses and cut nearly 250 teaching jobs.In his first budget since the Liberals won the election in September, Finance Minister Roger Melanson is forecasting a deficit of $476.8 million for 2015-16.Effective Wednesday, fuel taxes on gasoline will increase by 1.9 cents per litre and the cost of diesel will rise by 2.3 cents per litre. The government said there was room to hike those fuels with prices expected to remain low and the increases will bring the province in line with neighbouring Nova Scotia.The budget also increases taxes for the richest one per cent of New Brunswickers, creating two new tax brackets. Those earning between $150,000 and $250,000 will see their income taxes rises to 21 per cent from 17.8 per cent, while those earning over $250,000 annually will pay 25 per cent, up from 17.8 per cent.Those measures are expected to add $30 million annually to government coffers.The government also plans to eliminate 249 teaching positions through attrition, close unused courthouses and increase premiums for seniors who use the Medavie Blue Cross prescription drug program.In his budget speech, Melanson said the province has faced many challenges in recent years, including weak economic growth, a declining and aging population, persistent job losses and rising government debt."We still find ourselves in an unsustainable fiscal situation," he said in a prepared text of his speech. "It would be easy to avoid making difficult decisions and leave the problems we face to the next generation. We are not going to do that."The deficit includes a new, $150 million contingency fund that was announced earlier this week. If the reserve fund is not used this fiscal year, the deficit is projected to drop to $326.8 million, which would still be $71 million higher than the projected deficit for 2014-15.Melanson also mused in his speech about reducing the size of the public service and selling off government buildings and Crown corporations, but he made it clear such measures would have to wait."More difficult decisions will be made in our second budget," Melanson said before he tabled the budget.The government says it impose a tuition freeze at the province's public universities, eliminate a tuition rebate for graduates in the workforce and freeze contributions to universities and community colleges.Government spending is expected to rise by 1.5 per cent.