Education, infrastructure among budget priorities

Finance Minister to deliver spending plan Friday

For Finance Minister Roy McTaggart, work on the government’s budget began almost immediately after the May election.

Managing the competing claims of multiple ministries to develop a two-year spending plan for the country has been a challenging and time-consuming task.

With diverse demands on the country’s finances ranging from the culling of invasive green iguanas to the perennial need for more resources for the island’s schools, the pre-budget planning has involved months of meetings and internal discussions involving every government department.

The culmination of that work will be seen Friday, when Mr. McTaggart delivers his first budget address.

The former KPMG managing partner, in his first year as finance minister, is hopeful that he can deliver a spending plan that will keep everyone happy and fulfill the policy commitments of the Progressives-led coalition government.

Education, health and a handful of key infrastructure projects feature high on the list of priorities, he said Thursday.

“It incorporates the input of everybody involved in this coalition government, so I think they should be generally happy with it,” he said.

“It has been a long process to get where we are. It has also been rewarding for me to go through the whole process and understand the intricacies and the difficulties that the ministry faces every year to produce a budget.”

He said the plan would flesh out the priorities highlighted in August’s Strategic Policy Statement, including funding for key infrastructure projects.

Among the major projects in progress are the George Town landfill remediation and new waste management system, the long-term mental health facility, the Owen Roberts International Airport redevelopment and the new John Gray High School.

With government switching to a two-year budget for the first time, there is an extra layer of complexity.

“From one year to the next, 90 percent of the budget is the same. It is a matter of setting priorities and managing the resources to decide which you can achieve in which year,” said Mr. McTaggart. The official state opening of the Legislative Assembly begins at 9:40 a.m. with the arrival of Governor Helen Kilpatrick, and her inspection of the guard of honor.

Ms. Kilpatrick will deliver the “Throne Speech” before Premier Alden McLaughlin makes his own statement on his government’s key priorities.

Mr. McTaggart will then table the budget and outline the main elements of the government’s spending plan.

The Legislative Assembly then adjourns until next week, Wednesday, when legislators on all sides will contribute to the debate on the budget.

Following on from that debate, the Legislative Assembly then goes into Finance Committee, where Mr. McTaggart will chair a ministry by ministry, line by line discussion and approval of the budget.

Legislators will also have the opportunity to question senior civil servants on their spending plans. The process is expected to take at least a month, before the final budget is approved.

“We are shooting for trying to wrap things up by the end of November. We will be working into the evening for the next month to get that done,” said Mr. McTaggart.

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