Just less than $18 million has been cut from the Cayman Islands’ education and public safety budget this year to make way for additional government spending.
According to budget documents presented to the Legislative Assembly late Friday, some $10.2 million has been trimmed from the Ministry of Education budget and another $7.5 million was removed from the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, which has responsibility for public safety.
Neither Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson nor the ministers in charge of those areas of the budget went into detail about the effects the reductions in spending would have in the current fiscal year.
The funds in the Ministry of Education budget included items like the construction and outfit of two new high schools on Grand Cayman, IT network integration, and improvements to George Town Primary school.
The money in the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs’ budget is used for matters like the completion of the new marine base in Newlands; new fire trucks and police vehicles; a new operations centre for the Hazard Management Cayman Islands team; and various expenses for the police service’s new helicopter.
Some major items added to the Cayman Islands 2008/09 budget included $4.4 million for a special police investigation; $1.4 million for the tribunal involving suspended Grand Court Justice Priya Levers; about $1 million for the purchase of an historic George Town home known as Miss Lassie’s house; a $6 million subsidy to help lower electric bills for Caribbean Utilities Company customers; $5.5 million for Hurricane Paloma relief on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman; and $2.2 million for overseas scholarships for Caymanian school kids.
Costs of medical care also had a severe impact on the current year’s budget. An additional $1.2 million went to pay for medical care for those who could not afford it; an extra $4 million was paid for medial care at various overseas hospitals; and an additional $2.7 million went to assist with medical needs in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
The poor relief services budget also increased by more than $1 million.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts sought to defend the additional spending during Friday’s meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee.
He told committee members the police investigation and judicial tribunal were expenses foisted upon Cayman by the United Kingdom. He said if the government was to be criticised for spending money to lower CUC bills, or pay for hurricane relief, or for supporting scholarships for Caymanian students, he would accept it.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said that government was ‘still partying’ and even now did not appreciate the extent of the financial troubles it faced.
Even with the cuts in expenditure, the government’s operating deficit ballooned to about $29 million dollars according to estimates by the financial secretary’s office.
Government members did not present any potential options Friday for making up the deficit, which essentially means that core government operating expenses were outpacing core government operating revenues.
Mr. Tibbetts said government had already cut about $15 million from the budget earlier this year, but those reductions were eaten up by a further $20 million in government spending.