'There is going to be some pain,' Mayor expects new challenges as province adjusts funding model
'Obviously, we're entering a new era of funding for municipalities in Manitoba," said Mayor Brian Bowman, addressing Bill 36, which affects provincial funding.
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When Manitoba's 2017 budget was tabled in April, all Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman wanted to see was “consistent” funding for the city, and strong partnership with the province moving forward.
At first he thought he had both, but was lacking some details.
Then, last Thursday, the provincial government tabled Bill 36, the Budget Implementation and Tax Statues Amendment Act, throwing both wishes into jeopardy.
With Bill 36 on the table, Bowman is now simply expecting “pain for Winnipeg’s infrastructure and Winnipeg taxpayers.”
“The question is of course, how much?” he said Friday, when he pledged to seek clarity from the province “about the implications of some of the decisions that are being made at the legislature.”
The 68-page bill has far-reaching implications for the city’s operations and infrastructure planning.
To start, it would eliminate the Building Manitoba Fund, ending a requirement for the province to spend at least one percentage point of provincial sales tax on local capital projects.
But perhaps more concerning for Bowman, it also eliminates the long-standing requirement for the province to fund at least 50 per cent of municipal transit operating costs.
The provincial government would instead determine the amount of funding provided towards those items during its annual budget process.
But without the predictable funding amount, the city could be forced to cut service in order to balance its budget. As staff have just finished public consultation for Winnipeg's 2018 budget, Bowman and company don’t know what they have coming from the province, or when they'd get it.
“That is one of the questions we need to have resolved by the province, when would that (transit operating funding change) take effect, for instance,” Bowman said. “Would it be retro to the beginning of this year? Would it be prorated? Would it be at the end of this year? These are the types of questions that really do need to be clarified.”
Provincial finance Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday the proposed changes are part of the government's plan to control spending, reduce the deficit and bring some penalties in line with those in other provinces.
Bowman said he appreciates “the fact that they have some difficult decisions to make,” but he intends to get answers to burning questions surrounding those decisions, such as how they affect Winnipeg's 2018 budget.
“We’ll be very specific in the coming weeks,” he said