GNWT unveils $1.34-billion budget

The Minister of Finance has presented a $1.34-billion 2011-12 budget to the legislative assembly, which includes $16.9 million in new spending.
Michael Miltenberger made his budget address during Thursday afternoon’s assembly sitting, the last to be presented to the 16th Legislative Assembly.
Miltenberger said that there are no new taxes in this budget, but property taxes, tobacco and liquor mark-ups will be adjusted for inflation on April 1.
He said that he feels the projected dollar figures are appropriate for the situation that the Northwest Territories is finding itself economically.
“While we are making some progress in terms of the recovery, it is still an extremely fragile economic situation,” he said, “So the budget we put forward today is an appropriate budget for the time.”
He noted that the aggressive capital investment adopted by the GNWT two years ago in response to the economic downturn will result in a $1.1 billion infrastructure project, making it “the biggest infrastructure program that has ever come out of the Northwest Territories.”
But Miltenberger noted that the government is going to have to be frugal with their wallet down the road, and the territory will see significantly less infrastructure going up in the coming years as the government switches into “recovery” from the downturn. It is expected that by the end of the fiscal year, the GNWT will have borrowed $155 million to cover short term cash shortfalls. But the debt is to be paid off early in the upcoming fiscal year, in line with the plan Miltenberger laid out last year to put the GNWT on a sustainable fiscal path.
“The path we are on is unsustainable in the long term,” he said.
“We are looking at making due with the revenues we have,” he said.
“It is not without it’s challenges, and it will continue to be a challenge.”
The Budget projects revenues of $1.36 billion for the upcoming year, and operating expenditures of $1.34 billion, over a three per cent increase from last year.
An operating surplus of $17 million is in the forecast for the upcoming year.
The $16.9 million of new spending will be going towards initiatives such as the NWT’s Caribou Management Strategy, small community employment programs and development and implementation of the NWT’s proposed new Wildlife Act.
Miltenberger said that the signing of the devolution agreement-in-principle is a “game changer” as it will have an impact on the GNWT and their role.
“It is the most important political decision since division in 1999,” he said.
Following in the tradition of budget presentations, Miltenberger was asked about his footwear following the media briefing Thursday morning.
He noted that he was wearing a pair of quilled moccasins made by Madeline Canadien on the Hay River Reserve.
“It is a very special day and these are very special moccasins,” he said.
Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen reflected on the budget after the presentation, saying that overall she is pleased with the document.
“This budget will not see the same volume of investment in things like capital infrastructure that we have realized extraordinarily in the last few years but I think the 16th Assembly will be remembered for carrying this Territory through a recession at the same time using those stimulus dollars and extraordinary capital investments to help ease the impact of the recession here in the Northwest Territories,” she said.
“Otherwise, the budget is not throwing excessive amounts of money around and, as it should be for the last budget in a government that is in a situation where their outgoing is kind of a steady-as-you-go, continuing to recognize the priorities and investing some money, but I believe it is, overall, a good budget.”