The Ford government is continuing with increased healthcare spending and cash grants to businesses and parents as its pathway out of the pandemic will be paved with more than $100 billion in new debt and deficits that are not likely to end before 2029.
The deficit for the 2021-2022 period is projected to be $33.1 billion, down from $38.5 billion last year. The projected deficit for the years 2022-23 and 2023-24 is $ 27.7 billion and $ 20.2 billion respectively.
The province will spend $186.1 billion this year, down from $190 billion last year, with net debt expected to hit $440 billion this year, and debt to GDP to exceed 50 percent by 2023-24.
Using its most realistic scenario, this year’s budget does not predict a return to balanced budgets until 2029, as many as three elections from now.
Health-care remains the central focus for spending, with $2.1 billion more for hospitals, to address the backlog of surgeries and to assist groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
A further $2.3 billion is set aside for contact tracing and PCR testing for COVID-19, which now costs taxpayers $46 per test.
Another billion dollars has been set aside to help public health units administer COVID-19 vaccines, with officials unsure of how much of that fund has already been spent.
In addition to healthcare, the main focus of the budget is new direct cash grants to businesses affected by COVID-19 and parents dealing with a school year peppered with closures.
Businesses who can prove revenue was impacted by lockdowns can apply for a second round of cash grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, with the new round costing taxpayers $1.7 billion.
And parents with children are getting $400 per school-age child and $500 per child with special needs. The exact date the payments will be made is not yet known and anyone who registered for the second round of payments last year will automatically be entered for the third.
The province is also increasing the child care tax credit, meaning the average parent taxpayer will receive $ 1,500 next year instead of $ 1,200.
The long-term care industry received an additional $650 million this year to retain and hire more staff.
Over the next four years, fulfilling the commitment to give every long-term care resident at least four hours of care will require another $4.9 billion.
The Ford government is also earmarking $400 million for the tourism sector over the next four years, along with a program they announced last year that would cover 20 percent of the cost of Ontarians’ in-province vacations when it is deemed safe to travel.
There will also be $50 million made available to “faith-based and cultural organizations” that have been impacted by the pandemic, likely places of worship and cultural groups with physical halls where people have not been allowed to gather as normal.
There are no new tax cuts for businesses this year, as opposed to last year when a raft of them were approved, and new details are emerging about several major capital projects demanded or opposed by municipal leaders in the GTA.
The Ministry of Finance said its contingency funds for dealing with the pandemic are now “fully allocated” for 2020 and 2021, but there will still be approximately $2.8 billion available for COVID-19 related issues in 2022.
But even with the new cash handouts and hospital spending, there are still areas being cut.
Baseline funding in the education sector is increasing by more than $700 million, but the end of more than $1.5 billion time-limited funding for COVID-19 measures in the education sector means overall spending in education will fall by $789 million
Meanwhile, The Ministry of Labour is losing $70 million in funding.
The province’s forest fire fighting program will be cut by $20 million, from $120 million to $100 million.
The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services is expected to lose $400 million.
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