With a predicted deficit of $407 million, Andrew Barr’s first budget as both Chief Minister and Treasurer is a modest one.
In light of what Minister Barr has described as “savage” cuts from the Commonwealth, the 2015-16 ACT budget handed down today focuses on infrastructure, creating jobs and maintaining Canberra’s title as world’s most liveable city.
This year’s massive deficit is largely a result of cuts to the ACT’s share of the GST to the tune of $137 million in 2015-16, reductions in Commonwealth funding for health and the massive debt incurred by the ACT Government to address the Mr Fluffy legacy – though a surplus of $50 million is expected by 2018.
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This budget shows an increased reliance on rates and land taxes, with revenue increasing 60 per cent in four years. Rates will increase by an average of nine per cent for both commercial and residential households, while the government will apply a five per cent annual indexation to the fixed charge component of land tax from 2015-16.
The cost of car parking in the city, vehicle registrations and the Fire and Emergency Services Levy will also increase, while the first home owners grant will be reduced from $12,500 to $7000.
For the first time, the ACT Government will introduce paid parking after hours at government-owned car parks in Civic both at night and on the weekends.
The bulk of budget spending is in health (31 per cent of total spending) and in education (24 per cent). There will be more services for mental health, end of life care, community, outpatient and primary care, and more elective surgeries and procedures.
There will also be expanded hospital services, more hospital beds, increased services for women and children and investment in specialist drug treatment services.
In education, the budget provides funding for the new Coombs Primary School, a refurbishment for Belconnen High and a new Canberra Institute of Technology campus in Tuggeranong.
Capital works funding of $2.8 billion over four years will progress infrastructure such as new hospital and health facility construction, new schools and TAFE facilities, public and active transport projects, new roads and car parks and new court facilities, as well as a wide range of smaller suburban initiatives right across Canberra.
$160 million has also been allocated for replacing 352 public housing units across Canberra.
The budget also includes extra funding for domestic and sexual violence services to assist the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre and the Canberra Men’s Centre meet increased demand. Social and emotional learning programs will also be introduced in ACT public schools.
The full budget papers can be viewed here. What would you have liked to have seen in the 2015-16 ACT budget?