New tax cuts, private school vouchers threaten vital public services, Ontario Alternative Budget says

May 10, 2001

"The Mike Harris Government has its budget priorities all wrong", the Ontario Alternative Budget says.

"Instead of pouring more and more money into pointless tax cuts, attacking public education and undermining medicare, we should addressing the large and growing gap between the need for public services in Ontario and what the Harris Government is actually delivering."

The 2001-2 Alternative Budget sets out a detailed plan to invest over $10 billion in the renewal of public services.

"Fully half of our proposed increased investment would go into education: a total of $5.1 billion divided among a new early years child care and education program; restoring real per student funding for elementary and secondary students; and reinvesting in post-secondary education.

"We propose new funding to put Ontario back into the affordable housing business and make a serious attempt to deal with the crisis of homelessness."

Out of a total of $1.8 billion per year devoted to housing, $900 million will go to returning responsibility for public housing to the Province and $900 million will be for new programs.

"We also propose to reverse Ontario's shameful punishing of the poor by increasing social assistance rates, at an estimated cost of $850 million a year. The poorest of the poor in Ontario have lost 30% of their purchasing power since Mike Harris was elected."

The Alternative Budget proposes a major reinvestment in environmental quality: $300 million a year in funding for renewal of our sewage and water treatment system; $80 million a year to re-establish the capacity for effective environmental quality regulation in the Ministry of Environment; and $155 million to restore funding for the Ministry of Natural Resources cut by the Harris Government.

"Our budget proposes a significant reinvestment in Ontario's cities, with $330 million in new annual funding for urban transit and $200 million for community and cultural development. In addition, funding freed up as a result of Ontario reassuming responsibility for public housing will enable municipalities to find local solutions to a wide range of growing urban problems.

"We propose to recreate the Ministry of Labour's capacity to enforce Ontario's workplace regulations and re-establish the Ontario Wage Protection Fund, at a total cost of $55 million. And to expedite the land claims process in Ontario, we will inject $8 million a year into Native Affairs."

This ambitious program is funded primarily (60%) through a series of targeted tax measures designed to restore lost fiscal capacity and secondarily (40%) from revenue increases resulting from economic growth.

The OAB spending program is spread over two fiscal years, with the funding for low-income families and individuals, homelessness, education and environmental quality fully allocated in the first year.

"When the Harris Government was elected, it called its program the Common Sense Revolution. The Government's decision to bring in yet more pointless tax cuts and to squeeze public services that are already in chaos is the opposite of common sense. It is pure ideology."

"The PR spin line the Government has adopted for its 2001-2 budget is 'Responsible Choices', a line that could have been written for them by George Orwell in his novel 1984. The line should be "Don't confuse us with facts, we know what big business wants us to do'.

The Ontario Alternative Budget is a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The Ontario Alternative Budget Working Group is a coalition of labour, social action and religious groups.

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