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Greater Autonomy Through Municipal Government

Dear Source:

The Constitutional Convention Committee on Government met on St Croix to receive input on what our government could look like. St Croix residents strongly were in favor of a weaker central government, and favored a strong municipal government. The time has come to make municipal government a reality in the Virgin Islands. As one testifier mentioned at the meeting, it would not add another layer of government, it would reduce the size of the central government significantly in favor of local control where elected officials on each island had full, autonomous authority to run the island. Throughout the Virgin Islands, there has been great support for this concept and here's how it would work: The senate, through district representation, would make laws for all Virgin Islanders. The Governor's task would be to carry out those laws. The governor would not be charge of directly providing citizens all the services expected. The central government would have authority to enact and fund initiatives that are needed but would have one more important role–to collect taxes. In a sense, the central government would be the treasury. Municipal governments would have the full legal authority to run the island or area of an island. This includes police, fire, public works, etc. Property taxes would be assessed and remain in the municipality that created them. The central government would pay to each municipality those sums required to run the needs of the community over and above property tax collections. In effect, the community takes care of itself and the central government would have literally no power in terms of the provision of services.
The Constitution could make this happen if the delegates choose to write it. This issue is probably the single most important issue having to do with people other than district representation. We hope the delegates will see the need for this long-needed language.
It was reported in the Source that once the Constitution is written and approved by the delegates, it would go to the Governor for approval. This is not so. The document would be forwarded to the President of the United States BY the Governor but the Governor has no authority to approve it or reject it. The President would make comments once received and send it on to the Congress who, by federal law, has 60 days to approve it. If, after 60 days has passed, the Congress does not act on it, it automatically becomes law. The President has the right to make comment and Congress, of course, has the right to amend or reject it but it must be done with in the 60 day time line. Once approved, it will come back to the people of the Virgin Islands for a vote.
We are hoping the delegates can get this important document completed by July and perhaps the people can vote on it at the November elections.

Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: 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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