A budget designed to create a better and fairer Bermuda
The Progressive Labour Party, via the Minister of Finance, has expressed the belief that the national Budget must reflect not just the times in which we live, but also our core values: protecting the vulnerable, expanding opportunity, employing the unemployed, preparing our children for the future and striving for a better, fairer Bermuda.
Highlights of the Budget include:
• A budget surplus for the first time in 17 years
• The debt will decrease for the first time since 2003
• Government spending is down. The forecast for current, interest and capital account spending in the 2019-20 Budget is $4.3 million lower than the amount approved in 2018-19. This reduction was achieved despite the Government's pay awards to public officers for this fiscal year
• The debt ceiling will not be raised
On top of payroll tax relief to those taking home the smallest wages, the Government will work with private-sector banks to pilot a mortgage-guarantee programme in return for a reduction in interest rates on mortgages. We will also create a government-backed mortgage lender to relieve pressure on public-sector employees by providing them with reduced mortgage rates. These measures, along with the elimination of taxes on mortgage refinancing, can save $5,300 a year for the average family carrying a $500,000 mortgage. This would give more Bermudians more money to spend and invest in our economy, which would benefit local businesses.
Our retail sector employs more than 3,000 Bermudians. Their jobs must be protected. That is why the Government will continue the existing relief for small business and provide targeted payroll-tax relief to the largest employers of Bermudians.
In education, the Government is supporting programmes to benefit Bermudians at every level.
At preschools, the Autism Spectrum Disorder programme will be implemented, foreign languages will be introduced to expand learning opportunities and an Early Childhood Quality Assurance Officer will be hired to provide professional training and coaching for teachers.
At our primary schools, the Government will continue to support Steam learning, including professional development training for teachers, updating the social studies curriculums, and hiring a reading teacher to strengthen the literacy programme.
At our senior schools, the City and Guilds Programme in English and mathematics will be expanded, and a virtual job shadow programme introduced to create a unique experience for students as part of the Career Pathway Programme.
The Government will continue to support Bermudian college education through the funding of our College Promise programme and help the Bermuda College to assist students in financial need. Programmes to support Bermudians seeking nursing degrees and certification in compliance and landscaping will also receive funding, creating opportunities for Bermudians to earn the skills they need to gain employment in those fields
For teachers, the Government will fund the development of the National Educators Institute to facilitate professional development, professional learning and research.
Upgrading the skills of Bermudians through the workforce development plan is critical to Bermuda's future. This year that plan will be implemented. The Government will also modernise our labour laws, implement a living wage and introduce pay equity for Bermudians.
Further, as Bermuda seeks to be a leader in the fintech industry, the Government will support education, training and awareness programmes to provide Bermudians with the technical skills needed for jobs in that sector.
At the Cabinet Office, talent development programmes will be launched including a Summer Internship Programme, in which three postgraduate or master's degree candidates will be assigned to our overseas offices.
At the Ministry of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, funding has been allocated to support sporting bodies, youth organisations, apprenticeships, scholarships, the arts and community and cultural events.
Bermuda is spending too much on healthcare. Health-financing reform has begun creating the foundation for long-term sustainability of Bermuda's healthcare by creating a unified system that will drive down costs.
In the 2019-20 fiscal year, the Ministry of National Security will support the Gang Resistance Education and Training programme, which is aimed at preventing gang affiliation among school-aged children through early intervention. The Government will also launch the Redemption Farm Programme, a therapeutic, incentivised production for at-risk individuals that aims to restore and discourage criminality.
In the 2019-20 budget, funding has been allocated to the Ministry of Legal Affairs for establishing a cannabis-licensing regime that will create a framework for permitting cannabis use for medicinal purposes.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs will also establish a Unified Family Court and Mediation Centre to provide co-ordinated services to those who have family-related matters within the judicial system.
Recognising that Bermuda's transportation infrastructure is ageing, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport will continue its phased investment in a new bus fleet, while ensuring that both the Department of Marine and Ports and the Department of Public Transportation have increased capacity to undertake proper maintenance and refits of buses and ferries after years of neglect.
In fiscal year 2019-20, the Ministry of Home Affairs will further regulate debt-collection agencies while enhancing protection for Bermudians. In addition, the ministry will reform legislation surrounding landlords and tenant relationships.
This year's budget is a result of the values we believe in, the recognition of the times we live in and the need for that to be balanced with the fiscal discipline to create a better and fairer Bermuda for Bermudians.
•Scott Simmons is a government backbencher and the MP for Southampton West (Constituency 32)
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