Nova Scotia tables $16M surplus in what could be last budget before vote

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s NDP government tabled a slim surplus Thursday of $16.4 million in a budget that aims to appeal to the public before an election call that could happen later this year.

Maureen MacDonald’s $9.5-billion budget, her first as the province’s finance minister, is propped up by an anticipated boost of $233.6 million in provincial revenues and another $86 million in departmental spending cuts.

MacDonald said the balanced budget for 2013-14 marks a landmark achievement for a government that initially promised surpluses in each of the last three years but was hampered by global economic forces beyond its control.

“We are back to balance despite three years of modest revenue growth, not through hoping and wishing,” MacDonald said in her budget speech to the legislature.

“There have been some bumps along the way, but collectively we have a lot to show for our efforts.”

Some departments such as Education, Economic Development and Community Services will face cuts. But the Health Department, the government’s largest expenditure, will see a small increase of $51 million, bringing overall spending to $3.9 billion.

The government is also increasing the tax on tobacco by two cents per cigarette as of Friday, a measure expected to rake in $18.1 million.

MacDonald is also offering a smattering of small populist measures, some of which were previously announced in the days leading up to the budget, that are intended to win public favour.

About $5.3 million will go to funding insulin pumps and related supplies for youths up to the age of 19, and another $2.1 million will be spent to expand dental coverage for children 13 and under.

Other measures previously announced include tax breaks that will see 8,000 additional low-income seniors exempt from paying provincial tax and a small business tax rate reduction to three per cent, down by half a percentage point.

The government has also previously announced its intention to drop the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points over two years beginning in 2014.

“Together, we have climbed a steep hill,” MacDonald said. “Together, we will start seeing the hard work pay off.”

Federal revenue sources are also expected to grow, driven by a $124.9 million rise in equalization funding from the federal government.

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