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Thursday, August 11, 2022
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DESPERATE TIMES: DESPERATE MEASURES

The high-handed heist of government money by Brink's of Puerto Rico may have been muddle- headed and wrong, but it shows how desperate some businesses are to get paid what the V.I. government has owed them for weeks, months and sometimes years.
They are simply tired of waiting for their money. But few have any recourse. Brink's thought it did but its manager quickly backed down Wednesday when Attorney General Iver Stridiron, backed by police, confronted him and threatened legal action.
Is there any answer to the vendors' plights?
Long-term, the only way to deal with the outstanding — and ongoing — bills to vendors for goods and services is to cut other government expenses, thus freeing up funds to do more than cover payroll.
That means eliminating every single expense that isn't absolutely vital to running government and delivering essential public services — from cellular phones to travel to receptions to after-hours use of cars. And it means cutting the cost of payroll through a serious attrition program.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull seems to be trying to do his part. He has cut the Government House payroll from $4.6 million to $2.6 million — a big step in the right direction that must be continued.
But what about other branches of government and other agencies? Are they doing their share to cut every possible expense? We don't think so.
Take the Legislature, for starters. Its $15 million budget is bloated, padded and crawling with political cronies whose main function is to get incumbent senators re-elected. How does that serve the Virgin Islands public?
Just look at one division of the 158-person central staff: the Office of Public Affairs. This office has nine people on its payroll — five on St. Thomas and four on St. Croix — who earn nearly $225,000 among them, yet they never issue a single press release on legislative sessions or committee meetings. In fact, we're not sure what those people do. And why do we need a nine- person public affairs staff when most senators have public relations staffers on their personal staffs? It's a colossal waste of money, as is much of the personnel spending at the Legislature.
The Legislature, like Government House, should begin to set an example for others — and insist that other agencies do the same.
Senators could start by cutting their own salaries by 10-20 percent, then instituting a stringent attrition program for central staff and capping personal staff allotments at a reasonable rate. They don't need to spend as much as they do to serve their constituents well.
The scare and the lessons of the recent payless payday were, unfortunately, short-lived. But the financial crisis continues and the pain lingers on — especially for vendors, some of whom face financial ruin as a result of the government's inability to pay its bills.
More could be done, we believe, to free up money for those vendors if all government officials were committed to sharing the pain and doing more with less.

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