Don’t read the news much? We’ll keep you in the loop here every Wednesday morning by summarizing three local news stories that broke in the last week.
2014’s Budget in a Nutshell …
According to finance minister Charlene Johnson, 2014’s budget “shares the wealth we are currently seeing in the economy.” By “currently,” she really means “temporarily.” The boom is coming from oil, and the fact that one third of our revenue is oil money isn’t really good because it’s never good to rely too much on the one thing, especially when that one thing, like oil, is non-renewable. A strong economy is a well diversified one, not one so heavily reliant on oil. But hey, a boost in hundreds of millions of dollars in 2015 is slated to occur, largely as a result of a Hibernia extension, and here’s some selected good news:
- The provincial government is abolishing interest on student loans, and, replacing student loans, with “needs-based grants.” The long-running tuition freeze at MUN and CONA will continue, as will the patching up of residences and labs at MUN.
- There’s a new tax break for low-income families – the new threshold for paying taxes is up to $31,362. (Also, for single low-income individuals, the threshold is up to $18,547.)
- The budget also allocates funds to screen newborns for cystic fibrosis, and a hefty dose of money to autism care.
- There’s a plan to deal with how overcrowded schools are in Mount Pearl and Paradise.
- The government will restore an energy efficiency program that was cut in half last year (mentioned just last week in our Broken News!)
- Small businesses will get a 1% drop in their corporate income tax rates (now 3%, previously 4%), putting us on par with Nova Scotia. There is also a new “Build Ventures” capital fund for start-up businesses. The government is investing $10 million in this fund. This is a collaboration with federal government and private investors: total pot appears to be $60 million.
Getting back to bad news, our net debt is on the rise: close to $10 billion. What this means is that for the first time since 2005, the Newfoundland and Labrador government will be borrowing money to fund operations and spending. A fact that has Liberal leaders crying “election year budget.” Liberal Opposition Leader Dwight Ball felt it all indicates a poor planning on the Tory’s behalf. “You cannot take your kids’ credit card out of your pocket and borrow $1 billion. We are going back to unprecedented debt in this province right now. This was supposed to be the golden age, let’s not forget that.” Ball, like The Overcast, would also like to remind the Tory government that oil is a non-renewable resource. What about when the oil is gone?
City Manager Bob Smart Replaced Amidst Snow Clearing Outrage
The very week the snow hits the fan about snow clearing issues and mismanagement, we have a new acting city manager on our hands, Neil Martin. The city gave little to no reason behind the decision not to go ahead with former city manager Bob Smart’s two-year renewal option on his three-year contract, which was due to expire mid-April. There was some indication it was Smart’s decision. “I have enjoyed my time at City Hall and do feel I have made a meaningful contribution to our great city.” Yes, he reminded us that sometimes people have to storm a city council meeting and demand the basic civil service of cleared streets and sidewalks that countless other Canadian cities – much bigger than St. John’s – get to enjoy. He did not talk of snowclearing in this speech, but pointed out two feats of his he is proud of. This time last year, he wasn’t taking the heat for snowclearing, but instead was being accused of quashing staff morale. Sheilagh O’Leary and other then-councillors were vocal about how he was managing staff. His response? “I wouldn’t be naive enough to think there is no dissatisfaction or discontent at city hall, but the suggestion there is widespread and deep-seated morale problems, in my view, is highly and grossly exaggerated.”
This Week in Skeets Up To No Good
– A year ago, Steven Michael Neville was found guilty of stabbing nineteen year Doug Flynn to death and trying to kill another in Paradise in October 2010. This week he was back in court for another offence that happened four months before the murder —smashing a beer bottle in a man’s face. The trial is expected to last for five days, and the case took this long to go to court because his lawyers “wanted to deal with his more serious charges first.” Wow.
– Friday night, eighteen year old Jake Long stabbed a man in his thirties, nearly piercing his heart. The altercation happened on George Street, of course. Upon being detained, he caused a lot of damage at RNC headquarters, for which he is also being charged. Total charge count: assault with a weapon, possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes, possession of a concealed weapon, and mischief of damaging property.
– An early morning power outage on April Fool’s Day wasn’t a joke so much as a shooting: vandals sank a few bullets into transformers at the Pulpit Rock substation in Torbay. According to Newfoundland Power, “That transformer is extensively damaged and therefore out of service. Our crews are assessing to see whether or not the transformer can be repaired.” About 8,000 litres of oil was also spilled as a result of the transformer shooting. An environmental contractor has been brought to the site. There is a $5,000 reward out for any information that could help police catch the guilty parties.