by Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press Posted Sep 30, 2014 2:39 pm MDT Manitoba deficit slightly higher than forecast; net debt jumps $1.4B AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s deficit was slightly higher than expected last year, says a report that is bound to provide ammunition to the opposition parties.The annual public accounts document released Tuesday shows the deficit for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $522 million — $4 million higher than budgeted. The report, approved by the auditor general, is the final verdict on the year’s fiscal numbers.Expenses were higher than expected in some areas, such as auto insurance claims at Crown-owned Manitoba Public Insurance due to a long cold winter with icy roads. On the plus side, it was a good year for crops, and retail sales were up as well.Finance Minister Jennifer Howard said the government stayed close to its target while spending money on infrastructure and job creation.“We have managed to stay on track by focusing our resources on jobs, infrastructure and the health and education services that families count on.”But the extra red ink may raise more concerns about the NDP government’s promise to balance its budget by 2016-17, which is an election year. The province has been running deficits since 2009 and earlier pushed back a promise to be in the black by 2014.Last month, Moody’s downgraded Manitoba’ fiscal outlook. The credit rating agency cited concerns the government might not meet its target.Tuesday’s report showed the provincial net debt jumped by $1.4 billion to $17.3 billion. As a percentage of GDP, it increased to 28.8 per cent from 27.3. As a percentage of government revenues, it moved up to 122 per cent from 117.The government has defended its deficits as the best way to ride out the global economic slowdown. Howard has repeatedly said the Opposition Tories would implement deep spending cuts if elected, while the NDP believes spending has stimulated job growth and kept the provincial economy growing.To that end, the government also released a report Tuesday to show how it has spent money raised from last year’s controversial decision to raise the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven. The New Democrats promised to use all the extra cash for core infrastructure such as roads and bridges.The government raised $190 million in the last fiscal year from the tax increase, the report said. Infrastructure spending increased by $115 million, but the province said the unused money will be carried forward and spent in future years.Jon Gerrard, a Liberal member of the legislature, said the government is misleading people by saying the infrastructure money has been set aside for future use.Given the fact the NDP ran a deficit, “all the tax revenues raised in 2013-2014 were spent. They spent the $75 million on other items,” Gerrard wrote in a statement.