My Take: There’s some good news in the Ontario budget for municipalities for infrastructure funding, and for Halton Region where social programs are delivered (all Burlington city councillors sit on Halton Regional council). Hospitals will also get increased funding. Though the needs of cities and our residents exceed the money earmarked in this current budget, the increased funding for social programs and infrastructure is step in the right direction. Taking a page out of the Bernie Sanders policy book, the government also announced free tuition and education grant programs for low income families. This is great news.
Here are some highlights, via excerpts from Association of Municipalities of Ontario press release:
- The government is projecting a deficit of $5.7 billion in 2015-16 and $4.3 billion in 2016-17. This is an improved fiscal picture from recent projections made in the Fall Economic Statement. The government remains committed to a balanced budget in 2017-18.
- The provincial government will continue to honour the upload agreement to 2018. (NOTE: This takes back funding that was downloaded onto the municipal tax base by the Harris government).
- The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) will increase to $300 million per year by 2018-19.
- Allocations to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) remain unchanged in 2017 at $505 million. AMO had been seeking inflationary and population change related increases of $11 million.
- The government reaffirmed its commitment to cap and trade. It will generate $1.9 billion annually starting in 2017-18 to fulfill climate change objectives. No further details are provided in the budget related to municipal eligibility for infrastructure investments that support active transportation, public transit, or lands that support reduced emissions. However, the budget provides for cap and trade proceeds of $478 million in 2016-17 directed to investments in home and business energy efficiency, innovation funding, public transit and transportation infrastructure, and clean technology.
- $178 million over three years is allocated to support Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy. This includes:
o the construction of up to 1,500 new housing units
o $2.4 million to pilot a new portable housing benefit for those fleeing domestic violence
o new provincial funding for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) by $45 million over three years ($15 million per year).
- Ontario Works social assistance rates will increase by 1.5%. This change will not affect municipalities until January 2017.
- The Province will design and implement a Basic Income pilot project. The Province will work with communities and other stakeholders to design and implement such a pilot.
- The budget reaffirms the 2014-15 three-year commitment to create 1,000 new housing spaces for people with mental health and additions issues. This will include $4 million for 248 supportive housing units in 2016-17.
- An additional $85 million over three years will be provided to assist primary care teams to recruit and retain qualified inter-professional staff. This will help clinics to continue to provide services in rural, northern, and fast-growing communities.
- Hospital funding will increase $345 million. However, this represents a 1.8% increase in spending, which barely keeps up with inflation (Source: Toronto Star, Feb. 26)