Budget 2006 Good news for the Peace, says Lekstrom

VICTORIA – Investing in children, training skilled workers and compensating public sector workers are at the heart of Budget 2006, says Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom.

Balanced Budget 2006 provides an additional $400 million over four years to increase training and skills development, including $90 million for a new tax credit to be developed in consultation with industry to expand training opportunities in the traditional construction trades and emerging industries. Lekstrom said that these investments are welcome in the north, and that the region has already seen significant advancement in apprenticeship training.

?In August of 2003 in Northern Lights College we had 524 apprentices registered in our college region – not a bad number, I thought, when I looked at that in 2003, but I?ll go back,? said Lekstrom during his official response to the Budget. ?The last numbers I pulled up were in September of ?05. We had 891 apprentices registered in our college system. That?s an increase of 59 percent in just over two years. That?s pretty significant.?

The largest increase in funding in Budget 2006 is the $6 billion for public sector wage increases. Lekstrom says that he believes this is a fair amount because public sector workers have been a vital part of the province?s dramatic turnaround over the past five years.

?March 31 we?re going to see 90 per cent of the employees have their contracts expire and $6 billion is on the table [to reach negotiated settlements],? said Lekstrom. ?This is single largest wage mandate in the history of this province and in some cases I hear: ?It?s way too much. What are you doing giving that much away? Take $2 billion and put it on debt, and put $4 billion on the public sector.? Well, I believe $6 billion is a fair number, and I?ll stand up and discuss that with anybody. I think it?s fair because our public sector employees are a big reason why we were able to turn our province around.?

The Budget also includes raising the luxury surtax threshold for passenger vehicles from $49,000 to $55,000, an additional $126 million to upgrade roads in oil and gas exploration areas, $421 million to improve and expand services for children, tax reductions for homeowners and significant funding increases for the public education and health care systems.