The recent news that the Legislature turned back Governor DeJongh's bond issuance plan is disappointing. The global economic turmoil we are seeing has begun to affect the territory and we need an economic stimulus plan, much like the United States is proposing and other nations have begun, to counteract the contraction in our tourism sector. The hotel and tourism industry have begun to report a weakening in revenues and it is inevitable that we will soon be seeing workers being laid off and unemployed. We will need some place for these workers to be employed and the infrastructure projects, which are contemplated, will soften the economic downturn, which is expected. Even if the cruse ships return to St. Croix and continue their visits to St. Thomas, their passengers will be spending less.
The doubts in the legislature seemed to be two-fold. On the one hand, some Senators want more concrete plans than the broad scope of projects listed in the legislation sent down from Government House. That is sensible but could be achieved without scuttling the legislation; just insert a provision that before the proceeds of the bonds can be spent, the legislature must be provided with more specific information about the projects. I'm sure at this point no one at the Dept. of Education knows anything more about building a school on St. John other than it needs to be done, so having someone from the department appear and testify now would be a waste of time.
The second prong of objection is that the legislature is a lame duck legislature and the matter should be left to the next legislature. I have two problems with that. First, with interest rates moving lower, the timing is right for the bonds to be issued. Also, because these are tax-exempt bonds, investors will be interested in buying them since many investors are looking for safer investments than equities. Another plus is that the Virgin Islands has never defaulted on a bond issue. My second concern is that notwithstanding its lame duck status, the Senators continue to be paid and therefore should continue to deal with the important issues of the day. I agree that nominees to boards and commissions need to be confirmed and government leases need to be approved but the state of our economy is much more important. But not withstanding its lame duck status, this legislature ended its term with a flourish of money bills. Finally, is it my imagination or did the legislature pass Act No. 6905 in a lame duck session?
Derek M. Hodge
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