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Bermuda’s three big building blocks: opportunity, responsibility and fairness

Three big values anchor our island, says Michael Dunkley, the Premier (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Bermuda Government passed its “Safe Hands” Budget in late March, laying down ways and means that money will be earned and spent over the next year.

Legislators debated the Budget for more than 100 hours, which tells you that our system of democratic scrutiny is alive and well.

Before moving on with our busy lives, I would like to draw your attention to what the Budget demonstrates about our beliefs as a government and what we are trying to achieve for the benefit of all Bermudians.

Three big values anchor the Budget.

The first is opportunity, the second is responsibility and the third is fairness.

These are life-enhancing values that can help us to get to the better Bermuda we all want. In drafting the Budget, they guided our thoughts towards decisions we believe will support and advance the personal and community life of Bermudians.

Let’s look at opportunity first.

Opportunity is essential to personal growth. Opportunity makes it possible for people to pursue their dreams and to take that turn in life that leads to fulfilment. Without opportunity, potential has less chance and ambition gets stifled.

When the One Bermuda Alliance was elected in late 2012, opportunity was in decline. Investors had lost confidence in Bermuda. Activity was down, unemployment was up and family budgets were strained.

We had to fix it. We had to get the economy growing again because growth creates opportunity, enabling parents to put food on the table, families to educate their children and young workers to get their lives on track.

We faced an opportunity challenge and this year’s Budget will yield results of the Government’s multiyear effort to restore opportunity — from new hotel construction, to the airport redevelopment, to the America’s Cup and more. In each case, opportunity is returning in the form of jobs and career possibilities, and with them confidence and hope that Bermuda is on the right track.

The second value is responsibility.

Early on, we identified public debt as the greatest single threat to the island’s prosperity. That was made clear by the largest budget expenditure this year being debt service at $186 million — an astounding amount that takes away what we can spend on education, health and public works.

To reduce the debt burden, we first had to eliminate the annual government deficit, which is the difference between what it earns and what it spends. In our first year in office, we were confronted with a deficit of $330 million.

That figure gives you a sense of just how out of whack our public finances had become. But through a wide range of policies to grow government revenues and steps to reduce costs, we are on target to eliminate the deficit next year — a huge accomplishment that will allow us finally to start paying down the debt.

This is the meaning of responsible government: taking care of the public purse so it can protect the public interest and meet people’s needs.

The third value is fairness.

This year’s Budget initiated payroll tax reform to ease cost-of-living pressures on people, with tax cuts of up to $720. The progressive nature of the reforms introduced fairness into a system that has always been unfair to lower-income employees. The reforms, in short, require more from those who earn more and less from those who earn less.

In light of the saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, we consider progressive tax reform to be an important step towards narrowing inequities that stand in the way of a better Bermuda.

In this sense, the values of opportunity, responsibility and fairness are building blocks for a Bermuda we can all believe in. By anchoring its decisions to these life-enhancing values, the Government through this year’s Budget continues the push to move Bermuda forward.

Michael Dunkley is the Premier of Bermuda and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)