OBA leader Simons rips Burt in response to budget speech – The Royal Gazette
One Bermuda Alliance leader Cole Simons (file photo)
The Prime Minister is a ‘slippery-tongued’ cheat who has raised payroll taxes, the Leader of the Opposition told the House of Assembly yesterday.
Cole Simons has accused David Burt, also finance minister, of deliberately misleading the public.
He said: “The Minister of Finance has announced that there will be payroll tax cuts for workers earning less than $96,000 a year.
“But, again, this slippery-tongued Prime Minister has misled the public because this is directly opposed to what he said previously, which was that there would be no increase in payroll taxes for employees earning less than $96,000 per year.
“He was right when he said the employee share of payroll taxes was reduced to 1.5% for employees earning less than $48,000 a year, and then misled us, whereas in the book of the budget, it shows that employees earning $48,001 to $96,000 had an increase in their payroll tax rate.
“It went from 8.5% to 9% in this year’s budget. The Prime Minister gives with one hand and takes with the other. You can be the judge of this deception.
Mr Simons made the damning assessment as he delivered One Bermuda Alliance’s response to last week’s budget.
He called for a new economic plan to create jobs, fight inflation and reduce the national debt.
Mr Simons predicted that the war in Ukraine would trigger increases in fuel prices and inflation that the government had not negotiated.
He insisted that Bermuda needed to change its ways and rebuild.
David Burt, Prime Minister (file photo)
Mr Simons said: “This reconstruction process must be supported by a realistic plan. We can’t keep listening to the same old budget promises dusted off year after year, which now read like a familiar, but boring, bedtime story.
“The 2022-23 PLP budget lacks courage and, frankly, is irresponsible.
“Premier Burt has only kicked the proverbial box further down the road, instead of making the tough decisions necessary to improve Bermuda’s fiscal situation.
“Bermuda needs a recovery plan that is realistic, achievable and that takes into account Bermuda’s fiscal framework, ever-growing debt and infrastructure investment strategies.
“We must also identify and develop new skills training for the labor market.”
Finance Department refutes ‘factually incorrect’ statements in budget response
The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance poured cold water on the claims of the Leader of the Opposition in his response to the budget.
David Burt hit back at Cole Simons’ claim that employees earning between $48,001 and $96,000 a year had their payroll taxes increased.
He said “anyone earning less than $96,000 gets a tax cut.”
Mr Burt added that Mr Simons’ statement that Bermuda had missed a deadline for the EU Code of Conduct Council was “100% false”.
He said Mr Simons was briefed by ministry officials last month and told that no deadlines had been 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 similarly to 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 was facing a $4 billion national debt.
He insisted that the island of Bermuda must not exceed its statutory debt ceiling of $3.5 billion.
He also disputed an opposition accusation that the government was “looting” the sinking fund and cutting it by $70 million.
Mr Burt said the figure for 2022-23 came from the projected deficit of $70 million for that fiscal year.
Mr Simons asked: “What is the PLP government’s plan for new jobs and economic growth in Bermuda? How many new jobs do they expect to create?
“Is it 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 new jobs? If they can’t quantify, we can’t assess.
Mr Simons said the sanctions against Moscow would hit Bermuda because many Russian planes were registered on the island.
He also asked if the government was going to do anything regarding Russian trading on Bermuda-registered cryptocurrency exchanges.
House of Assembly (file photo)
Mr. Simons also warned against property tax increases.
He said: “People in this country should also pay close attention to their property tax bills. I have been advised that members of our property assessment team are addressing the increasing annual rental values of our homes and commercial properties.
“It is concerning because if our ARVs are adjusted upwards, property tax bills will increase, even if property tax rates are not adjusted.
“This is yet another stealth cash grab.”
Mr Simons expressed concern about a reduction in the size of the pension pot and argued 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 our inflation rate for the year to be around 6-7% after accounting for shipping and local profit margins.
“The 1-2% inflation figure recently provided by the Bermuda government is wrong and its recalculation should be reviewed by the government’s statistics team.
Mr Simons asked: ‘What is this PLP government going to do about this cost of living? The prices of fuel, electricity and food in Bermuda are almost criminal and continue to rise.
He said the budget was designed to win votes and that there needed to be more emphasis on debt reduction.
Mr Simons said the budget related to the re-election of Mr Burt as leader of the PLP, as well as the target of the next general election.
He said: “It’s a crowd pleaser, budget lover. It is not the budget of a responsible economic policy.
Mr Simons added: “It looks like Bermuda is set to further increase the size of its national debt, which is on track to reach almost $4 billion.
“A debt of this size will undoubtedly cripple our ability to put money where it is most needed, such as in our social support networks, to end violence and to improve health care and welfare. -being of all Bermudians.”
Mr Simons also called for a “radical reform” of the immigration system as the island needed at least 7,000 new residents.