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Calgary Green Line funding pushed back; cities take Alberta budget hit

Provincial cash for Calgary’s Green Line project will be pushed back to 2022, but the chair of the city’s transportation and transit committee said it won’t delay the project.

Finance minister Travis Toews presented the budget Thursday in the Alberta Legislature, calling it a “good day for Albertans.”

Cities will see their share of provincial cash shrink by roughly nine per cent as Alberta’s UCP delivered their first provincial budget after being elected to office earlier this year.

Funding transfers under the province’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) faced significant cuts in the budget. According to the province’s budget document, Alberta’s capital grants to municipalities were found to be over 20 per cent higher than the national average.

As such, the MSI will be reduced province-wide by $236 million by 2023.

According to the documents, “this means funding for Edmonton and Calgary will be rebased to $455 million from $500 million,” and that future transfers would increase by half the rate of provincial growth.

“Alberta has one taxpayer. When hard-working Albertans see their incomes shrink and struggle to make ends meet, they have to face their fiscal realities – and so do governments,” the budget document read.

In all of this, a new Local Government Fiscal Framework will replace the MSI / Municipal Transportation Grant and the City Charters Fiscal Framework Act.

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi was fuming when he spoke to reporters Thursday, saying the UCP had broken a promise. He quoted from the UCP’s YYC Matters survey, which said they would respect the City Charters Act that they voted for.

“That’s a black and white promise,” he told reporters, then crumpling the paper and tossing it aside.

“And that’s a promise broken.

“Certainly I think they’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”

Calgary’s Green Line LRT funding remains intact, however, the province said it will be adjusting cash flows from the capital funding plan and that “most of the provincial funding will be provided after 2022-23.”

Still, it’s expected that a rise in federal contributions is expected to fund the transit project in the interim.

Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, chair of Calgary Transportation and Transit committee, and driving force behind the Green Line, said he doesn’t expect the provincial funding delay to have any impact.

Keating said with Stage 1 / Phase 1 (southern portion) in the Request for Qualification process right now, with Request for Proposals later this year, they wouldn’t likely begin construction until late 2020 or early 2021.

INTERACTIVE: City’s proposed Green Line construction timeline

Stage 1 / Phase 2 has already been delayed as the city looks at ways to mitigate cost escalation in the downtown portion, and Keating doesn’t think work on that will begin until 2022.

RELATED: Green Line transit project models showed budget overruns: GM

“So we won’t be expending a lot of money in that short period of time as it is, so if it’s delayed a little bit, I don’t think it’s going to affect the project at all,” he said.

Still, Nenshi said that lengthening out the funding is, in fact, a cut to the funding, because you’re stringing out interest payments.

He said instead of $555 million over four years, the city will get $75 million.

“I don’t know how you complete the Green Line on time,” Nenshi said.

Finance minister Toews said that should the government revenue forecasts not be met, further budget cuts could be made.

“We live in a world of great volatility,” he said. “This government is very prepared to take a look at our options and move in the direction of additional spending restraint.”