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Political Freedom Must be Matched with Economic Freedom

July 9, 2005 — We have just enjoyed the celebration of our freedom on two special days: Emancipation Day and Independence Day. We in the US Virgin Islands are truly blessed that we can celebrate these two days as Americans living on American soil. Yet, the meaning of these celebrations should cause us to reflect on where we are and where we are going.
We have come far since 1776 and 1848. We are traveling on a road that leads onward and upward beyond the scope of our sight or vision. We may grumble and complain that the road is not always straight or smooth. It is not. We may protest the unfairness of some of the "rules of the road." We should protest whenever we come upon an unfair rule or law and if our political leadership will not listen to our voice, then we should change those leaders. We cannot lose hope: the promise is real, and our progress has been real.
As American Virgin Islanders, ours has been a slow struggle to gain the same political rights enjoyed by other Americans. We only began to elect our own Governor in 1972. Even today we are burdened by an unequal distribution of Medicaid funds to our most needy and our senior citizens; still our young people fight in a war that our elected representative to Congress could not even vote on. Now we find that we must fight to prevent the continuing Federal take-over that was triggered by our own leaders' political selfishness or incompetence. We find our housing communities, our prisons, our sewage systems, our public schools and our tax collections slipping away from our control. Surely we can do better. Surely we must keep local government in local control. Indeed, I think local control in many areas – schools in particular – should mean municipal control.
Yet, political freedom must be matched with economic freedom. For what is political freedom without financial security? How can we assume that a working adult can support his or her family on $5.15 an hour given our cost of living? This is the case for 32 percent of our workforce. And in the Virgin Islands, we are not talking about kids working a summer or after-school job for spending money for the minimum wage; we are talking about heads of households working their primary jobs to feed a family, clothe a child, provide health care for a loved one. With one-third of our children under the age of 16 living below the poverty line, it should be our goal to ensure their parents a living wage. Increasing the minimum wage to $6.15 per hour adds about $2,000 to a person's salary before taxes. Are we saying that we cannot grow our economy and business activity to fulfill this moral obligation?
We are free to meet these challenges. We must be more open to allowing more people the opportunity to reap the economic rewards that come from political freedom. And we should never forget that this is not just about a job, but it is about an opportunity for a career and ownership; it is not just about existing, but enjoying. We are free to succeed as the result of our own efforts and talents. We can do this. Together we can!

Editor's note:: John deJongh is a former Finance commissioner, was a special assistant to Gov. Alexander Farrelly and primary author of the Five Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan written at the behest of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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