Joan Shea, MHA for the district and minister of Advanced Education and Skills, told members of the Bay St. George Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that she recently met with Paul Davis, minister of Transportation and Works, and that project has been placed at the top of the priority list.
But she couldn’t say whether there will be money allotted in this year’s provincial budget to get the project underway.
Despite government announcements in recent years, the chamber recently criticized the province for not getting the project underway. The realignment would eliminate a section of road that frequently floods over in the community of Noel’s Pond and provide a road with a more uniform speed limit.
In her address to the chamber, Shea talked about the many millions that government has spent in the province, and specifically in her district on schools, roads and health care facilities.
She told chamber members government has lowered taxes, invested in social programs and provided substantial pay increases for members of the public service. She said this was done while substantially reducing the province’s debt by 25 per cent and living within the province’s means.
“It is worth noting that our total debt in 2004-05 was $11.9 billion and in 2012-13 it is projected to be $8.9 billion,” she said. “Today, while we are fortunate that our economy remains strong, we have less money coming in as a result of declining resource revenues.
“Every one-dollar drop in the price of oil below government estimates results in nearly $20 million less being funneled into the provincial treasury.”
Because of this, government is projecting significant deficits in the next two years and Shea said if government doesn’t reduce spending and/or increase revenue, deficits of $1.6 billion in each of the next two years are projected.
She told chamber members that being a have province doesn’t mean the province is rich, but simply that the province can pay its own way. In 2004-05, she said, approximately 34 per cent of the province’s total revenues came from the federal government. Now in 2012-13, that amount is down to approximately 10 per cent.
Shea said there is more money being paid out now to pensioners than is being paid in by employers and employees, creating a “ticking time bomb” — a problem on which everyone has to work together to come up with a solution.
“Our government must take action to reduce spending, and while we review our current fiscal situation we have implemented a temporary hiring freeze. As salaries and employee benefits make up approximately 55 per cent of our total expenditures, it is impossible to reduce costs without impacting employees,” she said.
Shea said on budget day government will lay out a plan for the people of the province to address the projected deficits and to bring the province back into surplus.