[Updated with video] Shadow Minister of Finance David Burt is delivering the Opposition’s Reply to the 2013/14 Budget in the House of Assembly this morning [Mar 1].
This was the first budget devised by Finance Minister Bob Richards on behalf of the One Bermuda Alliance Government, who took control following their 19-17 victory at the polls in December 2012.
Budget highlights include raising the debt ceiling from $1.45 billion to $2.5 billion, reducing the fees for non-Bermudians to purchase property, commencing negotiations with the unions about reducing staff compensation, a two year payroll tax break for new Bermudian hiring and more. Finance Minister Bob Richards predicted an overall deficit of some $331 million.
Mr Burt acknowledged past errors of the PLP saying, “The Progressive Labour Party cannot absolve itself completely of responsibility for the country’s financial position. During our time in office we made mistakes, mistakes that we cannot make again.”
Mr Burt continued, “There are no easy options going forward. The situation at hand requires ideas and vision for the future. Short term fixes are not enough; short term stimulus is not enough. What we require is a fundamental transformation of our economy; and on that measure, the Honourable Minister’s Budget Statement came up short.
“Where is the OBA ‘Jobs and Economic Turnaround Plan’? Last year in this Honourable House the now Minster of Finance castigated the previous government for not having a plan. Now that the election is over we must ask, where is the OBA’s plan?
“Before the election, the Honourable Minister spoke about overseas investors waiting for the OBA to take office so they can come to Bermuda, but makes no mention of this in his Budget Statement. We hope that the extent of the OBA’s plan is not just short term tax breaks and breaking election promises by scrapping term limits.”
“Gone is the pre-election talk of reducing the debt and tackling wasteful spending. Now, we hear excuses about stubbornly rigid expenses, while we see spending increases. Two successive PLP budgets have reduced spending, but the first OBA budget gives this country a spending increase and a record deficit. Mr. Speaker, where is the leadership, where is the decisive action that the Bermudian people were promised?” continued Mr Burt.
“These are not ordinary times. The fact that the new Honourable Minister of Finance committed this country to a record deficit of $331 million dollars puts that fact in stark terms.”
“To sum up my party’s views on the budget presented, we were expecting something more. We were expecting a plan; instead, we got an increase in spending, an increase in borrowing, a record deficit, and a $2.5 billion debt ceiling. Instead of vision and long term conviction, we got short term moves.
“It seems as though the Honourable Minister came to grips with the fact that you cannot change the laws of economics and simultaneously cut taxes, increase spending and reduce the debt, no matter how many times you tell the electorate that you can.”
Mr Burt said the PLP was pleased that the Minister saw fit to leave in place the tax relief for the retail, restaurant, and hotel sectors. He also said although they support the aim of the OBA’s two year payroll tax holiday for new Bermudian employees, they question whether the impact of this election promise was fully considered.
“The Honourable Minister of Finance continues to state that this proposal is revenue neutral, however we beg to differ,” said Mr Burt.
Speaking on the changes to seniors vehicle licensing, Mr Burt said the PLP “does not support the move to punish our seniors by reintroducing vehicle licensing fees to some seniors and not others. We feel this is the wrong move, and that is precisely why we did not move forward with this proposal last year.”
“Many seniors affected by this tax increase do not have SUVs but have station wagons or sedans that are over 10 years old and they will see their cost of living go up,” continued Mr Burt.
Expressing the Opposition’s support for Immigration reform, the Shadow Finance Minister said, “It has been the long standing position of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party that we will not support the reintroduction of granting of Bermudian Status outside of our current laws prior to Bermuda becoming an independent nation.
“We support immigration reform as foreign labour and talent is vital to our economy and our future, but we will not support such reforms to be used as a pretext to extend status to PRC holders. That, Mr Speaker, is our red line.
“Mr Speaker, that redline withstanding, we can neither close our doors, nor can we open the floodgates. We must engage in a balanced approach and have an adult conversation about this topic.”
The full PLP Reply to the Budget is below [PDF here]: