Surplus will be used for aging infrastructure
An unanticipated provincial surplus has prompted the Stelmach government to funnel an additional $350 million toward crumbling public buildings and aging infrastructure.
Gene Zwozdesky, associate minister of capital planning, said six different ministries will share the funding, but announcements on specific projects will be rolled out at a later date.
“We know that Alberta’s growth rate is unprecedented and is the highest of all growth rates right across Canada,” he told reporters yesterday. “As part of that growth rate, we have to look at not only new infrastructure that needs to be built from time to time, but also significant investments in existing infrastructure.”
The new funding includes a $111-million top-up for advanced education and technology, as well as $53 million for health care and $23 million for transportation projects.
School boards across the province will share $97 million earmarked toward a variety of capital projects, including roof repairs and major renovations in classrooms.
Debbie Engel, chairwoman of the Edmonton Catholic School Board, said she wasn’t sure the new funding could cover the needs of all school districts.
“We need sustainable long-term funding — what’s coming next year and the year after rather than these lump sums being dropped,” she said.
Some school repair projects have been listed as a priority for the past eight years, she said, while four schools are currently in desperate need of major modernizations.
The new funding is part of Premier Ed Stelmach’s plan to allocate unbudgeted surpluses toward savings and capital projects.
By doing so, Liberal critic Mo Elsalhy said the government is simply throwing money at people and skirting around the legislature’s budgeting process.
“Because they have the majority, it doesn’t matter how much opposition we express,” he said. “It’s money that’s rubber-stamped. Expect more announcements of this nature.”
New Democrat Leader Brian Mason also questioned using unanticipated surpluses to fund needed infrastructure projects.
While the funding is badly needed, he said, it’s not enough to repair a history of deferred infrastructure maintenance costs.