Budget for the future

By MEL MARTIN

HANDING down his maiden State budget, Treasurer Andrew Refshauge said this was a budget that built for the future by investing in infrastructure.

But the NSW Government will borrow $3.5 billion to fund its increased spending on roads, rail, hospitals and education.

"This is a budget for growth and security, for development, for social equality, for the long-term needs of our state," Dr Refshauge said.

"It puts in place the building blocks that will help us deal with the pressures of an ageing and growing population."

Dr Refshauge said the Government would invest $34.7 billion in public infrastructure over the next four years to fund new and existing projects.

Record road spending of $2.9 billion this year includes $221 million to upgrade the Pacific Highway, with $1.5 million put aside for the Bonville bypass.

The NSW government will spend a total of $3 billion on public transport, including $2 billion to fix Sydney's troubled rail system.

The $109 billion health budget will include $227 million on 800 new hospital beds, $1.5 billion for elective and emergency surgery, $854 on mental health services and $646 million on hospital upgrades and repairs.

For education, $492 million will be spent over four years to buy 100,000 computers for schools, more IT support staff and improved internet bandwidth.

New schools will be built and others enhanced to the tune of $390 million, and $80 million will be spent on upgrading 10 TAFE institutes.

The budget also provides $16.2 million to drought-afflicted farmers, while energy and water spending will increase to $2.6 billion.

Police budget has increased to $2.1 billion, while the NSW Fire Brigades budget of $490 million will include new fire trucks and station renovations. The SES will get $41 million.

Insurance will be more expensive, with the stamp duty on household, travel, mortgage and some commercial property insurance to increase from five per cent to nine per cent in September.

The land tax-free threshold will be reinstated from January 1, at $330,000, after the $317,000 threshold was abolished last year, but the 2.25 per cent vendor duty on the sale of investment properties will remain.

The exemption from mortgage duty for refinancing will be capped for loans above $1- million from August this year.

The new taxes are expected to raise $180 million in 2005-06, and the budget forecasts a $303 million operating surplus, which is expected to.

While this was Dr Refshauge's first budget, it was handed down on the eve of Premier Bob Carr's anniversary as the longest continuously serving premier of NSW.

Mr Carr will today overtake former Labor premier Neville Wran's record of 10 years, one month and 20 days in office.



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