PREMIER’S OFFICE–Co-operation, More Money for Health Care,Balanced Budget More money to reduce health-care wait times, expanded support forseniors and Nova Scotia’s third straight balanced budget are thehighlights of the spring sitting of the legislature. The House of Assembly concluded today, May 20, having passed 16new government bills into law thanks to co-operative efforts fromall parties. “Our Blueprint said that health care would be the number onepriority of government and by working together with all MLAs, wepassed a budget that kept our word to Nova Scotians,” saidPremier John Hamm. “We made the tough decisions to makesignificant investments in front-line health care that will lowerwait times, put more doctors, nurses and other professionals atthe bedsides with patients and cover the full medical costs ofseniors in long-term care facilities.” Effective Jan. 1, 2005, Nova Scotia will become the firstAtlantic province to pay the full cost of health-care servicesfor seniors residing in nursing homes. An additional $9.2 millionis being invested in 2004-05 to bring this fully on stream inthis fiscal year, almost two years ahead of schedule. As aresult, nursing home residents will be able to keep more of theirincome — about 15 per cent, a minimum of $150 — each month. Aswell, those entering nursing homes as of Jan. 1, 2005, will beassessed for their ability to pay based on their income only andnot on their assets. “Seniors and their families will face less stress under ouraccelerated plan,” added the premier. The new tax plan announced in the budget means that 53 per centof taxpayers will continue to receive their full 10 per centincome tax reduction. It also means 96 per cent of all taxpayerswill continue to pay less provincial income tax in the 2004taxation year, compared to the year before. As promised in theprevious budget, an additional 3,500 Nova Scotians will not payany provincial income tax this year. “Because of federal underfunding on health care, other provinceswere forced to make decisions which we refused to make in NovaScotia, such as a hike in the provincial sales tax, a new health-care tax, the firing of hundreds of health-care workers andmassive public sector layoffs,” said Premier Hamm. “Here in NovaScotia, we made tough choices that improved health care andeducation, maintained tax relief for nearly everybody, put moredollars into our highways, roads and bridges and made us the onlyprovince outside of the Prairies to deliver three straightbalanced budgets.” Passage of the 2004 Financial Measures Act triggers the creationof the Debt Retirement Fund, enshrining government’s commitmentto reduce the crushing provincial debt. It also eliminates theproposed 39 per cent salary increase for MLAs. “Now is not the time for making Nova Scotia politicians among thehighest paid in Canada,” added the premier. The government also took additional measures to stimulate theeconomy and create jobs. The budget accelerated small-businesstax relief by one year. The legislature also passed a bill toprotect existing jobs and create new jobs in the energy industryby regulating commercial tax increases on oil refineries andliquified natural gas facilities. “More Nova Scotians are working than ever before in ourprovince’s history, but we can’t take those jobs and prosperityfor granted,” said the premier. With all-party co-operation, MLAs addressed issues of immediateconcern to Nova Scotia families, including amendments to theAssessment Act that will protect homeowners from skyrocketing taxassessments for properties where little change has occurred. Thelegislature also, by way of a unanimously supported resolution,established an all-party select committee to investigate fuelpricing and supply issues in the province. Its members willreport their findings by Aug. 31, 2004. “It’s unfortunate for Nova Scotia drivers this summer that ourproposed legislation did not pass, as it would have providedgovernment with all necessary powers, including full regulation,to protect consumers,” said Premier Hamm. “However, I lookforward to the advice the all-party committee will bring forwardso we can consider other measures this fall.” Nova Scotians will also benefit from other legislation passedthis spring, including: a new, modern Health Protection Act to provide the legal framework for public health officials to protect the public against possible health threats without unduly interfering with civil rights and liberties; a bill that gives municipalities the ability to assess commercial day-care centres at a residential rate; a new tuition support program developed in recognition of the needs of a small number of special needs students who might benefit from specialized services for a period of time; and a new law to hold heads of government agencies directly accountable for the tax dollars they spend.