July 8, 2003 – One of the issues raised in debates over the governor's proposals to borrow another $235 million and impose new and increased taxes on the business community to cope with the current fiscal crisis is that there have been no public forums for discussion of the issues.
Three senators have unilaterally taken it upon themselves to change that.
Sen. Louis Hill of St. Thomas and Sens. Luther Renee and Ronald Russell of St. Croix announced their plans to host two town meetings for residents to make their views known on "the fiscal recovery of the V.I. government." The first was held Tuesday night on St. Croix at the Education Complex; the second is scheduled for Friday night on St. Thomas at the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands took aim at the Legislature for what it termed the body's "recent actions" regarding the territory's fiscal crisis that "have given the league grave cause for concern."
In a release, Rosalie Simmonds Ballantine, league president, reiterated the group's "adamant opposition to more borrowing at this time" by the government and its concern that there is no "comprehensive deficit-elimination plan that includes realistic short-term and long-term options to reduce expenditures and aggressively collect all taxes, current and delinquent."
"It has been over eight weeks since the governor announced that the Virgin Islands was in a fiscal crisis," the league release stated. "Where is the plan to get the Virgin Islands out of this fiscal quagmire?"
Saying that "apparently our leaders cannot make the hard decisions," the league suggested that it may be time "to consider the institution of a financial control board" to manage the government's fiscal affairs.
Noting that the Senate Finance Committee has passed the governor's proposal to borrow up to $235 million more on the bond market, $100 million of it for working capital, Ballantine said: "Once again, this government proposes to travel the fiscally irresponsible and easy route and borrow itself out of a crisis, rather than having a comprehensive approach that addresses all facets of the fiscal problem."
Hill, Renee and Russell, in a release distributed on Tuesday, said they are looking in particular for discussion of Bill No. 25-0040, the governor's proposal to float the $235 million in bonds for working capital and capital investment.
Friday's St. Thomas forum is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. That places it after the Senate Rules Committee's 10 a.m. Friday meeting, when it is scheduled to take up the bill. Of the three senators, only Russell is a member of the committee. There has been speculation that the full Senate could act on the measure next week.
"Suggestions from the public with regard to capital improvement projects in the V.I., the economic future of the territory and the crisis the government is facing are strongly encouraged," the senators' release stated. They want to know what capital improvement projects people consider most important for the various islands.
The league release stated that the new and increased revenue measures approved last month by the Senate "will generate a mere 7 percent of the revenues needed to reduce the projected $152 million deficit" for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 — "a deficit that continues to grow."
Ballantine said that a comprehensive plan to address the deficit "must include realistic goals and timetables, as well as mechanisms to monitor, enforce and provide for published status reports on the financial condition of the government." Without such a plan, she said, the government is "stumbling in the dark" and headed for bankruptcy.
Hill, Renee and Russell are all freshman lawmakers; all three were elected as members of the Democratic Party, as was Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. They said invitations to attend the town meetings went out to their fellow lawmakers and to community action groups, labor organizations and others. Any and all groups "are urged to send representatives," their release said.
Those wishing to sign up in advance to speak at the Friday night forum or wanting more information are asked to call 693-3523 or 693-3616.
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