OBA leader Simons tears into Burt in Budget speech reply
The Premier is a “slippery-tongued” deceiver who has hiked payroll tax, the Opposition leader told the House of Assembly yesterday.
Cole Simons accused David Burt, also the finance minister, of deliberately misleading the public.
He said: “The Minister of Finance announced that there will be payroll tax reductions for workers making less than $96,000 per year.
“But, once again this slippery-tongued Premier has misled the public as this is directly opposed to what he said previously, that there would be zero payroll tax increases for employees earning less than $96,000 per year.
“He was correct when he indicated that the employee portion of the payroll tax was being reduced to 1.5 per cent for employees making less than $48,000 per year and then misled us, when in the Budget book it shows that those employees earning $48,001 to $96,000 had an increase in their payroll tax rate.
“It went from 8.5 per cent to nine per cent in this year’s Budget. The Premier gives with one hand and snatches with the other. You can be the judge of this deception.”
Mr Simons made the damning assessment as he delivered the One Bermuda Alliance response to last week’s Budget.
He appealed for a new economic blueprint to create jobs, tackle inflation and bring down the national debt.
Mr Simons predicted the war in Ukraine would trigger increases in fuel prices and inflation which the Government had not bargained for.
He insisted Bermuda needed to change its ways and rebuild.
Mr Simons said: “This rebuilding process must be supported by a realistic blueprint. We cannot continue to listen to the same old dusted-off budget promises year after year, which now read like a familiar, yet boring, bedtime story.
“The PLP’s 2022-23 budget lacks courage and quite frankly, is irresponsible.
“Premier Burt has only kicked the proverbial can further down the road, instead of making the hard decisions necessary to improve Bermuda’s financial position.
“Bermuda needs a recovery plan that is realistic, workable and addresses Bermuda’s fiscal framework and ever-growing debt, and infrastructure investment strategies.
“We must also identify and develop new skills training for the labour market.”
The Premier and finance minister, poured cold water on claims made by the Opposition leader in his reply to the Budget.
David Burt countered the claim by Cole Simons that employees on $48,001 to $96,000 a year had seen an increase in their payroll tax.
He said “anyone making less than $96,000 gets a tax reduction”.
Mr Burt added that Mr Simons’ statement that Bermuda had missed a deadline for the EU Code of Conduct Council was “100 per cent false”.
He said Mr Simons was briefed by ministry officials last month and was told no deadline was missed.
Mr Burt also disputed an Opposition claim that there was government interference in the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
He said the commission was run along the same lines as the Bermuda Monetary Authority, with no legislative requirement for a government representative to sit on its board.
Mr Burt also dismissed a claim by Mr Simons that the island faced a national debt of $4 billion.
He insisted the island was Bermuda was not expected to go past its statutory debt ceiling of $3.5 billion.
He also disputed an Opposition charge the Government was “raiding” the Sinking Fund and had reduced it by $70 million.
Mr Burt said the figure for 2022-23 came from the projected deficit of $70 million for that financial year.
Mr Simons asked: “What is the PLP government’s plan for new jobs, and economic growth for Bermuda? How many new jobs do they plan to create?
“Is it 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 new jobs? If they can’t quantify, we cannot evaluate.”
Mr Simons said sanctions against Moscow would hit Bermuda because many Russian planes were registered on the island.
He also demanded to know if the Government was going to do anything about Russian trading on Bermuda’s registered cryptocurrency exchanges.
Mr Simons also warned about land tax increases.
He said: “The people of this country should also pay close attention to their land tax bills. I have been advised that there is an all-out assault on the increase of annual rental values of our homes and commercial buildings by our land valuation team members.
“This is concerning because if our ARVs are adjusted upwards, land tax bills will increase, even if the land tax rates are not adjusted.
“This again is a money grab by stealth.”
Mr Simons expressed concern about a reduction in the size of the pension pot and maintained the government had not done enough to tackle the cost of living crisis.
He said: “As Bermuda is dependent on imported goods, we can expect that our inflation figure for the year will be around six to seven per cent after shipping and local profit margins are factored in.
“The one – two per cent inflation figure recently provided by the Government of Bermuda is flawed and its recalculation should be revisited by the government’s statistics team.
Mr Simons asked: “What is this PLP government going to do about this cost of living? Bermuda’s fuel, electricity and food prices are almost criminal and continue to rise.”
He claimed the Budget was designed to win votes and that more emphasis should be given to debt reduction.
Mr Simons said the Budget was about Mr Burt seeking re-election as the leader of the PLP, as well as targeted at the next General Election.
He said: “It is a crowd-pleaser, a sweetheart budget. It is not the budget of responsible economic policy.”
Mr Simons added: “It appears that Bermuda is destined to further increase the size of its national debt, which is well on its way to almost $4 billion.
“A debt of that size will undoubtedly cripple our ability to put money where it is most needed, like into our social support networks, into stopping violence, and into improving the healthcare and the wellbeing of all Bermudians.”
Mr Simons also called for “radical reform” of the immigration system as the island needed at least 7,000 new residents.