by Lisa Goudy
Saskatchewan infrastructure and highways have made budget history.
In the 2011-12 provincial budget released today, $134.1 million is set aside for capital funding of municipal infrastructure. An additional $285 million is for repaving and other capital infrastructure projects. In the 2010-11 budget, highways and infrastructure capital was $250 million. This is an increase of $35 million.
“I think we’ve done great work in the budget with infrastructure overall. It’s the largest capital budget in highway’s history,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Highways and Infrastructure Jim Reiter.
“It’s an overall budget increase including maintenance from last year so I think we’re playing catch-up. We’ve got a big infrastructure deficit, but we’re getting there,” Reiter said.
Reiter added that there are lots of projects in the municipalities, such as $23.5 million for advancing roads for the economy and $10 million for community and tourism access roads.
SUMA vice-president Jim Scarrow is very pleased with the budget, especially the full point of PST for the Municipal Operating Grant.
“On balance, I think we’re pleased with this budget, certainly the confirmation of the full one per cent. That means, to the members of SUMA, an additional $35 million dollars and tops up to about…$150 million dollars,” Scarrow said.
There are opportunities for reliable and predictable infrastructure funding, he said.
But he also added that there was no new money addressing core infrastructure requirements, such as water and sewer. Until the federal budget was released on March 22, there were no infrastructure plans in place after the year 2014.
“Cities are still reeling under the effects of infrastructure neglect. We’re paying that price and you don’t have to drive very far in any city, town, or village to know of which we speak,” Scarrow said.
But considering all things, Scarrow said that he still has high hopes because of the election campaign.
“There were some items that we had requested that are not in the budget, but they are still on the table in terms of proceeding into the future,” said Scarrow.
A significant amount of infrastructure funding has come from the federal government. An additional $70.3 million is in the budget for a variety of federal-provincial infrastructure programs, including extended funding under federal stimulus programs. Reiter said federal funding has greatly helped the government “accelerate a lot of projects,” he said, citing Highway 11 as the best example.
However, the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund or ISF is estimated at $12 million, compared to last year’s estimate of t$36 million. Reiter said that this is simply a result of projects being finished and funds have been used up.
But Opposition Leader Dwain Lingenfelter isn’t so confident. He said there have been a number of projects that never occurred even though they gave a big number at the start of the year.
As an example, he said that the government announced twice that 13 nursing homes would be built across the province, but this still hasn’t happened. Another instance he referred to was the domed stadium, another fall-through project.
“The devil will be in the detail as to know what qualifies for this funding and whether the projects actually take place,” said Lingenfelter.
He said the cut in the ISF is simply another example of how people can’t really know what to expect until time passes.
“The numbers and I think even more importantly the actions that follow will tell us whether or not they’re really serious or whether this is just talk to get them by the next election and back in power,” Lingenfelter said.
Above: SUMA Vice-President Jim Scarrow.
Photo by Lisa Goudy