Manitoba would be better served if all unexpended budgeted dollars in the highways capital program were used in the same year or carried into future budgets, MHCA President Chris Lorenc said.
The province’s public accounts, published September 23, indicated that some $61 million of the $368-million budget for highways capital in the 2020-21 year was unexpended. Of that, $22.9 million was carried over to this year’s budget for highways.
This left approximately $38 million in total not spent on highways, money that lapsed to the province, Manitoba Infrastructure officials have explained.
“We have made our position very clear with MI,” said MHCA President Chris Lorenc. “Savings benefitting Manitoba through competitive bidding should not lapse, but should augment the program in the same year or be carried over to the future budget years. That is entirely consistent with the principle of any portion of the program unspent is to be carried forward to the succeeding budget year.”
Further, Lorenc noted, with an approximate $9-billion infrastructure investment deficit, Manitoba needs to invest as vigorously as possible in roads and bridges. “It will take decades to resolve that investment deficit.”
Lorenc said the province understands the need for multi-year program budgets, and to rollover any unexpended portion of the highways budget to the next year.
(MI officials explained that, in fact, competitive bids from the industry in 2020 saw project prices come in at $49 million below pre-tender estimates. As it was becoming apparent there would be a significant under-expenditure, the department added $11 million worth of work to the highways program.)
It appears that the government is on the verge of moving forward with three-year programs and then extend to five-year, a long-standing recommendation of the association, Lorenc noted.
However, the fact just $22.9 million of the $61 million in under-expenditure was carried over to 2021-22 means there is work yet to be done to ensure there are sufficient “shovel-ready” projects on the MI shelf that can be put out for tender, should the department see that the prices for the set program are coming in that much lower, in any given year, Lorenc noted.
“We are continuing our discussions with the province. It is an integral piece to the move toward five-year budgets.”