There’s a little something in the budget for everyone, especially the middle class.
That’s the message Delta North MLA Scott Hamilton presented as he went over highlights of the government’s 2017 budget during a luncheon held by the Delta Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 22.
Hamilton said he didn’t have all the details about the specifics of the budget, which was released the day before, but he was able to paint in broad strokes what this budget could mean for Delta.
The Liberals have allotted $4.5 billion for taxpayer-supported infrastructure spending over three years — and that means traffic upgrades for areas around North Delta.
There will be a new counterflow lane on the Alex Fraser Bridge thanks to $70 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments. The province’s share of the cost is around $36 million and is coming out of the 2017 budget.
This new lane could shave 12 to 16 minutes from commuters’ travel times, Hamilton said during his presentation, adding, “we know what time relates to in traffic, and that’s money.”
Hamilton, who was recently tasked with helping to develop a transportation strategy for the south of the Fraser region, also pointed to the new interchange on Highway 91 as evidence of the government’s commitment to saving drivers time.
The new interchange, now under construction, will eliminate the traffic light at 72 Avenue, which Hamilton called the “last piece of the puzzle” in that highway system.
The provincial government has committed $20 million towards the project from the 2016 budget and the federal government is putting in another $10 million. Construction is set to be completed in winter 2018.
The Liberal’s have already finished the $2.8 million overnight parking lot for commercial trucks on Nordel Way near Highway 91 with money from the 2015 budget, as well the $2.15 million median project along Scott Road.
“We are truly the meat in the sandwich in North Delta when it comes to gridlock,” Hamilton said. “We are the recipients of all kinds of port traffic [and] transit coming through, so I’m glad we’re making investments in that area.”
Ravi Kahlon (pictured), the NDP candidate for Delta North in the coming election, called such these infrastructure improvements a “bandaid fix.”
“Essentially these are small fixes,” Kahlon said. “They’re not going to fix the problem, they’re not going to take that much time off people’s commutes,” since narrow lanes in places like the Alex Fraser Bridge would have people driving slower.
Rather, Kahlon said, there needs to be more investment in transit infrastructure in Delta.
“You can’t…put a small solution on an individual bridge and expect it to solve the problem,” he said. “Traffic congestion is regional and we need a regional approach.”
Another area of the Liberal budget that could include benefits for Delta is health care. Starting Jan. 1, 2018, Medical Services Plan premiums will be cut in half for families earning less than $120,000 a year, and will eventually be eliminated.
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In his presentation at the chamber luncheon, Hamilton said the government chose to reduce MSP rather than remove a percentage point off the provincial sales tax because the MSP reduction would result in the greatest savings for the middle class.
“Where we wanted to target and receive the greatest effect was with the middle class, the people that are sometimes struggling to get by. They’re trying to raise their kids, they’re trying to pay their rent or their mortgage,” he said. “We’re trying to free up a few extra dollars for them every month.”
According to the 2011 Census, just over 23 per cent of people in Delta fall into what Hamilton identified as middle class.
Hospitals will also see additional funding under the new budget as health care spending is set to increase by $4.2 billion over three years.
“Anytime there’s more funding for health care, that’s great for our local hospital in Delta,” said Delta Coun. Ian Payton, who attended the chamber luncheon.
Delta Hospital has funding for a $12.5 million medical imaging and laboratory services addition, which is set to be completed in 2018. Payton, who is running as the Liberal candidate for Delta South in the coming election, said he would push for an MRI machine at the hospital as well. MRI machines cost around $2 million each, and half of the money to buy one would come from the province.
The provincial budget also includes funding for education, a 50 per cent reduction in provincial sales tax for electricity in businesses by Oct. 1, 2017 and $6 million over three years to support the Buy Local program.
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“There’s something in this budget obviously for everyone, particularly the middle class,” Hamilton said.
But Kahlon isn’t so sure, citing a lack of funding for seniors, among other things.
“It’s very much an election budget,” he said, “and I don’t put much stock in the election budget.”