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Governor Details How Changes in Washington Will Affect Territory

Nov. 11, 2008 — What happens for the Virgin Islands in the new economic climate and under the Obama-Biden administration boils down to relationships, Gov. John deJongh Jr. told a group of Rotarians Tuesday morning.
"Charles Rangel becomes very important to us as chair of the Ways and Means Committee," as does Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Health Care, deJongh said.
In response to a question about the territories' inability to vote for president, the governor said President-elect Barack Obama is aware of the issue. Changing the voting status of the territories would be complicated, and where the Virgin Islands is concerned would definitely rest on the territory's ability to develop its own constitution, deJongh said.
"This is the sixth time we've tried," deJongh said. "The political maturity needs to be there."
Relationships will also be important much closer to home, he said, referring to the recently elected 28th Legislature.
"Working with the local Legislature will determine what we get" from the U.S. government, in particular from federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, deJongh said.
He said he thought the recent local election reflected the electorate's desire for change, but also for the safety of experience. There was a big upset — mostly thanks to St. Croix — in the senator-at-large position, but Craig Barshinger, who upset incumbent Carmen Wesselhoft in a landslide, had served in the 26th Legislature.
"They want things different," deJongh said of the voters, " but still want a certain level of comfort."
Some questions remain as to how the new Senate will organize itself, deJongh said, which will be important to progress in the territory as a whole.
The territory's issues mirror the national ones, said DeJongh, who last weekend hosted nine state governors — members of the Democratic Governors Association. Topping the list of national concerns are education, health, law enforcement and the economy. The concerns of the various governors attending were disparate, with some of the states seeing surpluses while others faced daunting deficits, deJongh said.
As for the Virgin Islands, deJongh said, with capital markets all but gone, new revenue streams must be identified to create economic stimulus through capital projects, in particular.
"That's what makes the Diageo deal extremely important," he said. "It's a stream of revenue that prevents us from having to go into our own pockets."
In July the governor signed off on a deal with the major liquor distiller to produce its Captain Morgan rum on St. Croix. The agreement is projected to bring $2.9 billion in new excise-tax revenues into the government's coffers throughout the life of the 30-year agreement.
Looking to the south, deJongh said the territory is also very important to U.S. foreign policy, especially where Venezuela and its oil are concerned.
"Fifty percent of Hovensa is owned by Venezuela," he said, adding that it is important for the Virgin Islands to get involved in Caribbean-based organizations such as Caricom and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.
"The majority of our population comes from the Eastern Caribbean," he said, adding there are business opportunities in the region.
However, he said to the St. Thomas Sunrise Rotary members who meet Tuesday mornings at the Holiday Inn Windward Passage, all indications nationally and locally are that economically 2009 "is going to be a very difficult year."
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