On Thursday, the Nova Scotia government tabled its second consecutive balanced budget. It is one of only five provinces to table a balanced budget this year. Given that an election is expected to be called this weekend, many of the items in the budget have already been announced. The budget will likely not be passed until after the election is completed in late May.
The government has done well in keeping spending to a reasonable level while making investments in schools, health care and roads.
Of interest to retailers is a $390 million-dollar long term commitment to twin sections of the three main provincial highways without the use of road tolls.
Up to 1800 small businesses will benefit from the previously announced increase in the small business tax threshold from $350,000 to $500,000. This will cost the government $13.9 million in 2017-18.
The government will also increase the Basic Personal Amount (BPA) before a person is taxed from $8,481 to $11,481. This 35% enhancement is effective January 1, 2018 and will apply fully to individuals earning less than $25,000 per year. The BPA is a sliding scale and thus, applies to a lesser extent on incomes up to $75,000 per year. This will reduce taxes for more than 500,000 Nova Scotians who are low income to middle class. The average annual saving from this measure will be $160 per eligible person. An additional 60,000 people will pay no provincial tax.
Surplus / Debt: The projected surplus for the 2016-17 fiscal year is $40.8 million. For 2017-18, the government is projecting a surplus of $136.2 million on a total budget of $10.5 billion. However, the government must make a $110.3 million contribution to the multi-year redevelopment of the QEII Health Sciences Centre during the fiscal year which will bring the net surplus to $25.9 million.
The debt for 2016-17 is $15.2 billion while the net debt to GDP ratio has declined to 35.9%. The province has set a goal of lowering this ratio to 30% by 2024.
Tobacco Tax: There is no increase to the tobacco tax for the first time in more than five years.
Seniors: The government is increasing the non-refundable tax credit for low income seniors, from $4,141 to $5,606. An additional $7.9 million will go to seniors’ pharmacare, which will allow rates to stay the same as drug costs and system usage increase.
Existing Highway Toll: The toll on the Cobequid Pass will be removed in 2019 for motorists. A decision regarding commercial and non-resident traffic will be made at a later date.
Affordable Housing: $38 million will be invested across the province in additional affordable housing (in partnership with the federal government).
Water / Wastewater: $40 million in additional funding for municipal clean water and waste water projects.
Youth and Jobs: smaller amounts of funding were announced to improve apprenticeship programs for youth.
Rural High Speed Internet: $14.5 million to increase rural connectivity affecting 5,400 homes and 420 businesses.
Red Tape Reduction: The budget sets a bold target to reduce red tape by $25 million.
Accessibility: With pending passage of the Accessibility Act, $1.8 million in additional funding for the ACCESS-Abilities grant will provide more grants for community buildings / to launch a new grant program for small businesses to make their enterprises more accessible.