No cuts to post-secondary funding: minister

Summary: Education a priority for participants at budget meetings

Finance Minister Graham Steele discusses the government's budget deficit at a meeting in North Dartmouth.

Finance Minister Graham Steele said his government will not be making cuts to post-secondary education Monday.

"Let's be very clear about one thing," Steele said at a public budget consultation in Dartmouth North. "Nobody is talking about cuts to education. The only issue is how much it will go up."

But Rebecca Rose, Maritime organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students, says any limit to the annual increase in education funding could have dire consequences for the province's universities - and their students.

"I think what he was saying is that it's not (going to be) a cut to spending. It's just are we going to continue to increase at the current rate that we're increasing? Or are we going to increase at a rate that's less. And that's still a cut."

"If you're expecting a certain amount of money to be coming into the system, because that's the amount of money you need to, for example, maintain the tuition freeze, then anything less than that is going to be detrimental to the system."

The Canadian Federation of Students organized to help 15 students attend the two meetings, one in Dartmouth North and one in Eastern Passage, and advocate for increased investment in colleges and universities.

The meetings were part of Steele's "Back to Balance" tour across Nova Scotia. The tour stops in 23 locations, and is designed so that Nova Scotians can give give direction to the province's aim to prevent the rising deficit from spiraling out of control.

Steele said the government's revenue stream has flatlined, and the deficit, which was $600 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, could rise to $1.4 billion by 2013.

About 150 people attended the meeting in Dartmouth, while about 100 people attended in Eastern Passage.

Before attendees broke into groups for roundtable discussions on budget priorities, Steele made a presentation in which education was listed as the government's second largest expenditure - behind health care - with spending of $1.9 billion.

"When your revenue is flat, and somebody wants more money, something has to give," Steele said. "What we're trying to do on this tour talking to Nova Scotians is to say ‘if you want your government to spend more, you've got to tell us where you want us to get the money."

"People are used to saying ‘education is important, let's fund it', and then stopping," he said. "To me as an elected official that's only half the issue. The other half is where are you going to get the money?"

Rose said people at both meetings were generally receptive to increasing education funding.

"Even tables without students came forward and put an emphasis on increasing investment in quality post-secondary education as a way to ensure long-term stability," she said.

Suggestions for increasing government revenue included increasing taxes on items such as tobacco and alcohol, and potentially an increase in the Harmonized Sales Tax of 2 per cent.





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