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Sunday, July 3, 2022


Senate sponsors of the $2.50 ocean passenger head tax have agreed to hold off on the tax while they try to hammer out a better plan in a joint task force. The plan could include funding of capital projects and infrastructure improvements.
In a meeting Thursday, hosted by the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, senators, chamber members, cruise line officials and a representative from the governor's office spent several hours discussing how to develop programs that could benefit both the cruise industry and the territory.
Chamber President John deJongh said the main concerns of the people at the table were maintaining St. Thomas as a premier port, increasing cruise ship traffic to St. Croix and "ensuring we have an infrastructure in place to handle the traffic."
In May, Main Street merchants closed their doors and led a group of employees on a march to the Legislature to protest the rise in the head tax from $7.50 to $10 that was under consideration as part of the Financial Accountability Act.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Berry agreed at that time to ask the committee members to postpone further discussion of the head tax until they could meet with cruise line representatives.
The cruise industry is strongly against any hike in the tax. Michele Paige, director of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, who was at Thursday's meeting, said in February when the proposal was introduced by Sen. Roosevelt David, that she was shocked and extremely concerned about the proposal.
The Finance Committee meets Tuesday to break the massive bill into three parts and add amendments.
Senate President Vargrave Richards, one of seven senators who attended the meeting at the chamber, said, "The primary interest of the sponsors of the proposal is not just the dollars generated by the proposed head tax, but a stronger relationship with the cruise lines that leads to increased traffic at key times of the year, more creative programs to market our islands, and specifically a commitment to bring into reality increased cruise visits to St. Croix."
A release from the chamber said the joint plan will include:
—- A long-term operating agreement from the cruise industry to the Virgin Islands.
—- Increased ship calls for St. Croix and St. Thomas year round.
—- Mutually agreed-upon capital investments in enhancing our tourist product and infrastructure.
—- An ongoing funding of scholarships for Virgin Islanders.
—- The sale and promotion of Cruzan Rum aboard all ships visiting the Virgin Islands.
DeJongh said, "I am confident that the economic benefits realized as a result of the actions of the task force will far exceed any expected revenue from the proposed increase in head tax."
He said the cruise ship representatives have made a commitment to work with the territory.
The task force will include cruise line representatives, members of the Turnbull administration, representatives of the V.I. Port Authority and West Indian Co. Ltd., and members of the local chambers of commerce. They will come up with a plan in the next 90 days.
Other senators attending the meeting were Gregory Bennerson, Berry, David, George Goodwin, David Jones and Allie-Allison Petrus.
James O'Bryan represented the governor.
The following member of the cruise industry attended:
— Matthew Sams, vice president of Caribbean relations for Holland America Line.
— Stephen A. Nielsen, vice president, Caribbean Affairs and Operations, Princess Cruises.
— John Fox, vice president, Government Relations, Royal Caribbean International.
— Michael Ronan, director, Shore Excursion Programs and Destination Development, Royal Caribbean International.
— Gordon Buck, manager, Port Operations, Carnival Cruise Lines.
— Paige, president of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
Representing the chamber at the conclave were:
— deJongh, the chamber's new president.
— Joe Aubain, executive director.
— Filippo Cassinelli and Edric Jones of A.H. Riise.
— Bill Dowling and Louis de Lyrot of Cardow Jewelers.
— Bill Canfield of Little Switzerland.
— Bob Cockayne of Shell Seekers.
— Howard DeWolfe of St. Peter Mountain Greathouse and Mountain Top.

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