Chamber: tackling debt key to growth hopes
Bermuda's business community today said that tackling the island's debt mountain was key to revitalising the economy.
Chamber of Commerce president John Wight said: “Government has a very challenging job to narrow the 2016-17 year deficit in order to meet its self-imposed mandate announced in the first budget following their election victory in 2012 to balance the budget in three years.
“The only way to continue to reduce the budget deficit is to work at both increasing revenues and reducing expenses simultaneously.
“While this may not be popular with certain businesses, particularly those that will be affected the greatest by the new changes, Government has no choice but to act responsibly and appropriately.”
Mr Wight added: “One of Government's many challenges in the budget is to be seen to be having the pain felt equitably throughout all segments of our population.
“This will not be an easy task, especially given the increasing levels of inequality.”
Mr Wight said that Bermuda's debt stood at more than $2 billion but said, if guarantees and and other unfunded healthcare schemes and pensions were included, the island could be as much as $7 billion in the red.
He added: “Budget deficits and the high debt jeopardise economic growth for Bermuda. Business confidence and economic diversity are critical for future job creation.
“Measured and appropriate reductions in government spending can promote stability and confidence.
“We have a long way to go before we can start to experience the prosperity that Bermudians want to see.”
The Chamber's wish list for the budget includes a continuation of payroll tax breaks for retail, restaurants and hotels, as well as an agreement that they would not be reinstated “overnight”.
The real estate sector of the Chamber said that licence fees paid by permanent resident certificate holders and non-Bermudians for property purchases should not be increased.
And the Chamber also wants to see “a comprehensive transportation plan” for St George's with a specific budget and a time frame for addressing the ageing Swing Bridge.
Business Technology and Emerging Professionals said that funding for students and educational programmes should be a budget priority.