Analysis: Burt barking up the wrong tree on Budget?
It was the Budget dog that did not bark.
David Burt did not show the public the money on what caused the bust-up with Curtis Dickinson only days before the set piece parliamentary occasion of the year – widely believed to be government guarantees for the $200 million Fairmont Southampton redevelopment.
Did the Premier get cold feet at the last minute over plans that provoked the former finance minister to quit?
Shame, as it would at least have added some much needed sizzle to a rather bland, pedestrian Budget that was short on detail and long on rhetoric.
In a retro, reactive speech, Mr Burt spent large chunks of it kicking the One Bermuda Alliance rather than outlining how he was going to kick start the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Indeed, he mentioned the OBA so many times the Budget statement felt like a review of the previous administration, rather than an attempt to push his own one forward.
Sure, he threw out a couple of carrots like a cut in vehicle licensing fees and a reduction in payroll taxes for the lowest paid, but it was the unenumerated cuts to public services that left the biggest impression.
But Mr Burt generously said he would not say where the axe would fall as that would “steal the thunder” from his ministers – and, conveniently, also let them face any backlash from the public.
The Premier is also most concerned about the island’s declining population and wants to up the numbers on the island – surely a policy that will be known in nine months time as the Burt Baby Boom?
We are certainly going to need those babies in the next few decades to support the elderly as the pension pot has been depleted by more than $200 million under the scheme to let people withdraw cash now.
But there are tax cuts around the corner, apparently, we just have to hang on a tad longer – maybe until just before the next General Election?
Over at One Bermuda Alliance headquarters, which is above a music shop, they were singing a different tune.
Cole Simons, the Opposition leader, demanded a balanced budget and accused Mr Burt of “playing sweet melodies to rock our residents to sleep”.
Mr Simons, however, was vague on how an increased population could be achieved.
He said he would bring 12,000 new residents to the island along with top flight companies.
When it was pointed out that such a plan would take a considerable number of years to work, if it worked at all, and asked how he would balance the books in the meantime without further cuts to services, Mr Simons seemed at a loss.
To paraphrase the children’s nursery rhyme, Old King Cole may be a merry old soul, but his economic strategy sounded slightly less than convincing.
But back to Mr Burt who is, of course, in a difficult position with a coronavirus ravaged economy and a collapsed tourism industry.
Curious though, as Mr Burt is tourism minister, as well as all his other portfolios, there was such scant detail on, well, tourism.
The Premier did reference the Fairmont Southampton – which gave him an opportunity to attack the OBA over the failed Morgan’s Point resort development.
But he did not say what government guarantees for the Southampton resort might be, only that any developments had to be fully funded to be considered for help.
If that is now the government position, then what was the almighty clash with his former finance minister, whose “unique acumen“ he praised, about?
With Mr Dickinson suddenly off the leash and the Budget behind us, maybe we will get a bark – and perhaps even a bit of a bite – after all.