The minority Tories made last minute budget moves yesterday, doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to the province’s universities.
But opposition parties say the province is driving itself into “a technical deficit” and playing politics as a possible election approaches.
“A fudge-it budget — that’s what it is,” NDP leader Darrell Dexter said yesterday. “It’s a manipulation of the books.”
The additional $256 million promised to help post-secondary institutions with operating costs will more than exhaust the $213 surplus projected by the province last December, leaving some to wonder where the extra $43 million is coming from.
“The amount of money that they want to spend is not available in last year’s budget unless they make a change to the Provincial Finance Act,” Dexter said.
It seems the MacDonald government hopes to retroactively amend the act so that it can use $105.8 million from the offshore offset, which is legally required to go toward paying off the province’s debt, as part of that $256 million.
“This is highly unusual and highly troubling,” Dexter said.
But Finance Minister Jamie Muir said Tuesday the province’s budget would be balanced.
“Is the province able to pay its bills having done this? The answer is ‘yes.’ ”
Muir said Nova Scotians understand the need to invest in the operating budgets of its universities “given the economic conditions that we have and declining revenues.”
To change the law, the Tories will need the support of at least one opposition party. Otherwise it will trigger an election. Liberal leader Stephen McNeil said his party would not vote in favour of changing the law so the Tories can stay out of the red.
“These additional appropriations should not be taking place at the end of the (fiscal) year,” said McNeil.
Muir said the amendment would be tabled along with the budget when the House of Assembly resumes April 30. He admitted that to pass both and avoid an election, “we’re going to need a dance partner.”