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Tuesday, September 27, 2022


Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto Friday of the controversial land-for-tax-breaks bill, known familiarly as the Prosser bill, seemed to be expected in some quarters and welcomed.
Glen Smith, president of the St. Thomas-St. John American Federation of Teachers, said, "We are extremely pleased that the governor made the right decision on behalf of all of the people of the Virgin Islands."
On the day the Senate sent the bill to the governor, the teachers staged a protest at Government House, demanding that the bill be vetoed. The keystone of the bill was that the government would use 1,000 acres of land on St. Croix that businessman Jeffrey Prosser would donate to pay off the approximate $200 million owed to government workers in retroactive wages. From the start, labor leaders said the workers didn't want land, they wanted money.
Smith said he didn't want people to get the impression that "we're against investment," but said if the deal did come back to the table, it would be Prosser's chance to prove his sincere interest in the Virgin Islands, adding, "It should be on a much smaller scale." He also said they should "hammer out a deal that was in the best interest of the Virgin Islands."
One source close to Government House who asked not to be named said, "I knew he would veto the bill. This is a different man. He is not in anyone's pocket."
Another government administrator who also didn't want to be named said, "If he hadn't done that, he would have had to cut drastically to make up for the huge revenue losses."
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the first senator to come forward publicly in opposition to the Prosser deal, said, "What took him so long? It was clear to even the man on the street that this was a calculated attempt to manipulate and exploit the government and the people of this territory."
Donastorg said the proponents of the bill were trying to divide and conquer by using the bill to drive a wedge between St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Six St. Croix senators brought the controversial bill to the Senate floor and forced it through that same day, after 14 hours of testimony and debate, in an 8-7 vote. The only St. Croix senator who didn't vote for the bill was Senate President Vargrave Richards. Joining the St. Croix senators were Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole of St. Thomas and Almando "Rocky" Liburd, the at-large senator.
In his public statement about the veto, the governor said he found the bill to be full of ambiguities. He also said it was unconstitutional and violated the Organic Act because the Legislature does not have the right to negotiate on behalf of the territory. That is the exclusive right of the executive branch.
However Delegate Donna Christian-Christiansen said the governor's decision should not preclude further negotiations between Prosser's Innovative Communications Corp. and the V.I. government, adding they might find a compromise more "advantageous" to both Prosser and the territory.
In a prepared statement, Christiansen said that Prosser shouldn't "be maligned for his efforts to offer immediate relief to our economic strain."
The bill would have given Prosser full tax breaks for 10 of his companies for 30 years in exchange for the 1,000 acres at Carambola, which he would have subdivided, and about $10 million to build some public projects on unidentified government land on all three islands.

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