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Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek unveils $2.2 billion budget for NWT

The 19th Legislative Assembly is in its home stretch and on Wednesday, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek delivered her fourth and final budget.
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Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek presented the 2023-24 budget in the legislative assembly on Wednesday. It totals $2.2 billion and it marks the final budget for the 19th assembly. NNSL file photo

The 19th Legislative Assembly is in its home stretch and on Wednesday, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek delivered her fourth and final budget.

For the 2023-24 fiscal year, the GNWT plans to spend around $2.2 billion, up approximately $187 million from last fiscal year. That will be combined with a forecasted $37 million in savings and sunsetting programs and an estimated surplus of $178 million. Revenues are expected to be in the neighbourhood of $2.5 billion, a nearly three per cent increase over fiscal year 2022-23 due in part to more money — $1.6 billion — transferred through the Territorial Formula Financing Grant from the federal government.

By the end of this coming fiscal year, the territory’s debt is expected to be around $1.5 billion, leaving $311 million that can be borrowed under the limit set by Ottawa.

By department, Health and Social Services has the largest budget, coming in at a little more than $610 million. Education, Culture and Employment is next at approximately $382 million, followed by Infrastructure at around $309 million.

In terms of spending increases, $62 million is going toward expenses for the destructive flooding in the southern part of the territory in 2022; there’s $82 million in new spending for legislative assembly mandate priorities and enhancements to existing programs (those priorities were set at the beginning of the 19th assembly); $21 million to deal with higher costs/demand for current programming; and $19 million for work done on behalf of the GNWT by others.

Wawzonek said the $21 million for existing programming includes roughly $10 million to support health services, mainly out-of-territory supported living for adult patients, chemotherapy drugs for health agencies, and Stanton Territorial Hospital’s intensive care unit.

A further $3 million has been set aside for amortization (loan payments).

There are no new taxes in the budget, but fees and millrates are going up. The big one is an increase in the territorial carbon tax. That’s going up to $75 per tonne of greenhouse gases, from $60 per tonne, beginning April 1. There is an annual $15 per tonne increase each year until the tax reaches $170 per tonne in 2030.

Wawzonek said if the GNWT doesn’t raise the rates on its own, the federal rates would come into effect and any carbon tax revenue would be distributed by the federal government.

She also said that an additional $8.3 million will be made available to increase the Cost of Living Offset for NWT residents.

The Stanton legacy facility — the old hospital building — is receiving an $8.6 million bump to fund positions, provide more extended care beds and support the new long-term care beds.

Community government funding, which is seemingly an annual issue, was increased by around $922,000; $89,000 of that is going to the Deline Got’ine Government.

On that topic, Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said she appreciates the increase in funding, but it simply doesn’t cover what she feels is needed.

“(The GNWT) still have a long way to go to close the $40 million funding gap for 23 of the 32 community governments in the NWT,” Alty said on Wednesday afternoon. “Every year that the funding gap remains is another year that municipal governments struggle to provide core services like clean drinking water, safe roads, proper waste and sewage disposal, recreation, fire, ambulance and more.”

As for other increases in spending, Alty said the devil is in the details.

“I hope the money will help address core concerns like housing, mental health and addictions, the economy and more,” she said.

The budget still must be passed by the assembly before it takes effect.