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What We Can Expect from the 26th Legislature

Jan. 6, 2004 – The Senate Minority at a press conference Tuesday presented its agenda to the public. Now here's a look at the first items on the agenda of several individual senators once they are sworn in Jan. 10.
Senator-at-large-elect Craig Barshinger
Barshinger's agenda is three-fold. He said because he is senator-at-large he has an agenda for each island.
Barshinger said his "unwavering goal" for St. Croix is to work with the cruise lines to have one cruise ship per day visiting the island throughout this year.
"We need that cash injection into the St. Croix economy," he said.
For his home island of St. John, Barshinger hopes to solve the parking problem in Cruz Bay.
"People are miserable because there is no parking," he said, adding he will hold a town meeting with stakeholders later this month.
On St. Thomas, Barshinger hopes to alleviate the traffic congestion problems. He said he and other minority members have some ideas on ways to help the situation, but did not specify what they had in mind.
St. Thomas Senators
St. Thomas Senator Roosevelt David said he was interested in focusing on ways to boost the overall economy of the territory by increasing the revenue stream.
David said he and other minority senators are looking into creating an electronic stock exchange on St. Croix, much like the New York Stock Exchange.
"We have partnerships already," David said, adding that some Economic Development Commission companies are interested because that would be a good way to show their source income is in the Virgin Islands.
David said he also wants to fund government-negotiated contracts that are overdue, including funding negotiated retroactive wages for government employees. David further wants to help eliminate the government's long-term debt and pay off the unfunded liability, in particular that of the Government Employees Retirement System.
"We want to move away from a cash-strapped government," David said.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who will head the Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee, said his first priority is addressing the needs of the territory's consumers, specifically the high rates of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, which will be increased again in the January bills. (See "January WAPA Bill May Be Up and Down").
"The issue of animal cruelty is also an issue that is unresolved," Donastorg said, adding he wants to bring it to a resolution this year.
Donastorg said as the Senate's liaison to the U.S. Congress, he also wants to lobby Congress for the excise tax on gasoline to be increased so that the Virgin Islands can benefit, especially now that Congress is closing the loopholes in the Economic Development Commission program, which has affected the territory.
For Sen. Louis Hill, his priority "without question" is GERS reform.
"That is the first thing on my agenda, to pass the GERS Reform Act in the first 100 days after being sworn in," Hill said, adding he hopes he will have the support of the Senate Majority in this endeavor. "The minority senators have all pledged to sign on to this bill."
For Bovoni resident Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the first thing on his agenda, of course, is the rezoning of the landfill at Bovoni to allow operation of a tire-shredder.
"That's the first, immediate thing," Malone said.
Because of government bureaucracy, the shredder has been inoperable for almost four years. Recent cases of dengue fever sparked interest in the need for the tire-shredder once again. (See "Bovoni Tire-Shredder Impasse Gets Action").
Malone said he also wants to work on property tax reform and on the public transportation system. He said safeguards need to be set in place for safari drivers who are performing a "much needed service," and rules mandating that they stop only in certain areas.
St. Croix Senators
Senator-elect Juan Figueroa-Serville said his main priority will be the young people of the territory, as was his campaign slogan.
"I am in the process of putting together a Youth Outreach Bill," Figueroa-Serville said Thursday, saying he is working with stakeholders to make the bill a reality.
Figueroa-Serville said other priority items for him are the creation of a St. Croix Heritage Theme Park to include the Salt River Bay area and sports tourism.
"We have a lot of history that we can market," Figueroa-Serville said.
The Crucian senator said he also wants to "revive" the agriculture industry in the territory and is considering hydroponics farming, the practice of cultivating crops in other media besides soil.
"This is something I would like to work with the University of the Virgin Islands in implementing," Figueroa-Serville said. He said would like to see the agriculture industry as a whole take off, so that it can be a vital economic engine for the territory.
Figueroa-Serville said he does not expect all his dreams and goals to be realized in one term, but he will strive to bring about change in the territory with the help of his colleagues.
"If we can accomplish at least one or two economic initiatives for St. Croix, we will have accomplished much," Figueroa-Serville said.
For Senator-elect Neville James, his priority is making sure equity exists between the territory's two districts.
"The first goal is to get a real handle on the government's finances and to see if the disparity is as wide as it appears to be," James said. He said if it is, he will work to ensure there is equity in the distribution of funds to the two districts.
James said he also wants to do his best to encourage the growth of the private sector and inform the public on its necessity.
"Once we establish a broad private sector, we can provide better services as a government," James said. Money tied up in salaries will then be used for other obligations, he said.
Incumbent Sen. Ronald Russell said the first thing on his agenda is amending the V.I. Supreme Court legislation to move its location to St. Croix.
"That's the first major thing to do to show that this government is interested in the economy of St. Croix," he said.
Russell said he also wants to work simultaneously on election and education reform.
"Education is the key," he said, to improving the condition of the territory.
Senators not included in this article were unavailable for comment or did not return calls from the Source.
To review the Senate Minority's agenda, see "Minority Members Promote Agenda, Criticize Majority."
The Senate Majority has not yet released its agenda to the public.

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