MLA Report From OPINIONS OPINIONS OPINIONS Nancy Heppner Page 14 - june 16, 2016 - martensville messenger Phone: 306-668-1093 Email: email@example.com Saskatchewan people Our track record when can expect to see work 68-1093 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org it comes to highways is ne: 306-668-1093 Email: email@example.com We Will All Feel the Pain in This Coming Year of Transformational Change Maybe that’s not much comfort. But it is better than what rural Saskatchewan residents might be hearing over the next year: that it’s high time the Saskatchewan Party government stopped showing favouritism to its rural Saskatchewan base. A couple of points of clarity are likely needed here. First, the only tax exemption in recent years has been on feminine hygiene products, so it just isn’t so. Yes, Premier Brad Wall and company ran in 2007 on specifically reducing the education tax on agricultural land. And it would be fair to say that this Sask. Party government has accommodated rural needs for new schools, hospitals and nursing homes in a way that the previous NDP government didn’t. But to be fair to both the Sask. Party and the NDP governments, most rural amenities have been well established over the decades. The real question is whether they remain viable or even fair in a world of increasing public debt, structural deficits and this new initiative outlined in the 2016-17 budget that Wall describes as transformational change. For example, Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson noted in volume one of her 2016 report that the province’s long-standing tax rebate for farm fuel established in 1987 seems to have little identifiable purpose anymore. "It has not specifically been determined what the fuel exemption program is designed to achieve (other than reducing taxes for eligible individuals or corporations),” Ferguson’s report stated. The law governing the act describes eligibility as a “farmer is a person who owns or rents land, controls and is responsible for the operation of a farm” and meets at least one of the following criteria: 1) The person must own or rent at least 75 acres (30 hectares) of cultivated land in Saskatchewan, that is used for the growing of cereal crops; or 2) The person received gross annual revenue of at least $10,000 from the sale of primary farm products that he or she produced in Saskatchewan. A person may also qualify as a farmer if he or she is a member or shareholder in a farm organization, such as an agricultural corporation, farm partnership, a farm co-operative, or a farm colony, and contributed substantially to the agricultural production of that farm organization. So one doesn’t even have to live or pay income taxes in Saskatchewan to qualify for this rebate. One really doesn’t even have to make his or her living farmer as $10,000 in income or 30 hectares hardly merits consideration as a viable farming operation. Heck, Provincial Politics with Murray Mandryk you only have to live on the farm. You pretty much qualify if you are a farm bookkeeper. However, if you are a small part-time landscaping company in a city that makes $25,000 a year (doing lawn work or snow clearing) you don’t qualify for a rebate. Farmers also enjoy provincial sales tax exemption on the farm machinery or pesticides and fertilizers - expenses that would largely be seen as doing business. Again, in fairness, Ferguson’s report identified $3.9 billion - much of which goes to urban people. Included in the list of tax exempt items in t he 201617 budget: Construction, ($486.6 million); fertilizer, pesticide and seed, $163.4 million; basic groceries, ($129.3 million); farm activity, ($120.1 million); direct agents, ($98 million); low-income tax credits, ($90 million); basic groceries, restaurant meals and snack food, ($84.2 million); farm machinery and parts, ($83.8 million); electricity, ($49.4 million); used goods, ($36.5 million); prescription drugs, ($36.2 million); energy efficient appliances including furnaces and boilers, ($33.9 million); fuel for home heating ($28.7 million); reading materials, ($24.8 million), and; children's clothing ($13.4 million). So there are a lot of things that government could be looking at in its transformational process. Sadly, that’s cold comfort for anyone. on highway projects in virtually every corner of the province. This year’s plan includes major projects in addition to much-needed repairs to many of our rural highways that will keep our growing economy strong. Beyond benefiting economic activity and employment, our government’s Highways 2020 Plan will see a surge in funding used to make our roads safer. Over the next three years, we will deliver a $70 million surge to fix and repair more roads. $30 million of that total will be invested this year to improve 460 kilometres of highway. For the first time in history, Saskatchewan’s Highways and Infrastructure Budget tops $1 billion. More than 1,300 km of provincial highways will see repairs or upgrades this year. Highlights include: • Continuing work on major projects like the Regina Bypass and twinning on Highways 7 and 16 near Saskatoon; • S t a r t i n g construction on new overpasses at Warman and Martensville; • Upgrading more than 100 km of rural highways to improve safety and access; and • 200 repaving. km of The Regina Bypass is the largest transportation project in Saskatchewan history. Once complete, it will allow motorists to safely commute to their destinations on Highway 1 east of Regina and will reduce congestion in and around the city. The Bypass will also provide important linkages to the national highway system to help producers and manufacturers get their goods to market. Construction remains on time and on budget in all areas of the Bypass project. clear. Our government has invested more than $6.3 billion, including funding in this budget, to improve more than 11,000 km of roads and highways. Liquor Modernization Act Introduced The Government of Saskatchewan has introduced The Liquor Retail Modernization Act, 2016 to help create a level playing field for all liquor retailers in the province. Currently, Saskatchewan’s retail liquor system is a complicated mix of discounts and exemptions that apply to some retailers but not to others. The focus of the amendments is the creation of a single permit for all businesses that retail beverage alcohol in the province. The new retail store permit will apply to existing SLGA stores, rural franchises, private liquor stores and off-sale outlets as well as new operators entering the market. Late last year, government announced changes that will see an expanded private liquor retail system in Saskatchewan. New retail opportunities will be awarded through a competitive Request for Proposal process to be announced in the coming weeks. New stores are anticipated in Dalmeny, Hague, Osler and Aberdeen. Once implemented, this new liquor retail system will offer Saskatchewan consumers more choice, convenience and competitive pricing. Patient Choice Medical Imaging Act Introduced to Allow Private CT Scans From the end of March 31, 2015 to February 29, 2016, the number of patients waiting for CT services in Saskatchewan increased from 2,954 to 3,823. Between ABOVE: MLA Nancy Hepner December 2015 and February 2016, the average wait time for a non-urgent CT scan was 119 days province-wide. The Government of Saskatchewan has introduced The Patient Choice Medical Imaging Act, which will give residents the option to privately pay for a CT scan. This means patients will soon have more choice in how they receive diagnostics, while at the same time increasing public capacity and reducing wait times to CT services. Following passage of the Act and the establishment of regulations, privatepay CT services will be offered in the same way as private-pay MRI services. Licensed facilities that conduct a privately paid CT scan will be required to provide a second scan of similar complexity to an individual on the public wait list, at no cost to that individual or the health system. There are two licensed facilities in Regina that have been providing private-pay MRI services since it was launched on February 29, 2016. During the first two months, 258 patients received a private MRI scan (77 patients paid for a scan, and organizations, such as the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Workers’ Compensation Board, have purchased 181 scans). Under the “two for one” option, 258 patients from the public system will also receive an MRI scan at no additional cost. A physician referral will still be required to obtain a CT scan. Letter to the Editor The Martensville Messenger welcomes letters to the editor for publication. Letters must be signed and a phone number and/or email address included so the writer’s identity can be verified. ALL letters are the opinion of the writer and NOT the Martensville Messenger. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, clarity or compliance with the current standards of public taste. Submit your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org or jottenbreit@ martensvillemessenger.ca or drop by the Martensville Messenger office at Bay #7 - 301 Centennial Drive North.