The V. I. government's financial crisis is so well-documented, it is difficult to find a figure that still makes an impact on the public.
But just how bad is it?
According to the Five Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan, the cumulative budget deficit, as of January 1999, was estimated at $250 million, a figure that represents well more than half of the proposed 2001 budget of $429.6 million.
And that $250 million is misleadingly low. Because the government could not identify a funding source for many of its debts, they simply were left out of the budget altogether. But that doesn't mean they went away. Among them are:
* $60 million in unauthorized transfers from special funds to general expenses;
* $50 million to vendors;
* $172 million for retroactive salary obligations to government employees;
* $42 million to the Government Employees Retirement System;
* $21.5 million in Medicaid-related payments.
Like other municipalities, the territory also has long-term debt, mostly bond issues floated for capital projects, but its long-term debt is a staggering $1.12 billion or $7,694 for every man, woman and child in the Virgin Islands.
The plan cites several factors contributing to the crisis.
While the government's debt is mounting, the source for paying off that debt - private-sector business - is shrinking.
"Private sector total gross wages peaked in 1993 as a result of Hurricane Hugo rebuilding and the HOVIC Catalytic Cracker construction project. Following 1993, they declined by 20 percent and have remained flat since 1994," according to the plan.
Average unemployment from 1990 to 1998 was 4.3 percent, but at the end of the decade, it had reached 5.2 percent. Moreover, with the exception of a spurt for the refinery construction, employment has not increased in the Virgin Islands for the last 12 years.
Meanwhile, the territory has experienced decline in its banking sector, its marine industry (from $83 million in revenues in 1989 to $20 million today), construction supply (except for hurricane-related rebuilding) and financial services. It also is losing out in tourism to other Caribbean destinations.
V.I. tourism has remained flat for the last few years, while some other Caribbean destinations have seen a steady increase.
Certainly hurricanes Hugo (1989) and Marilyn (1995) didn't help. The two "hundred-year storms" in six years slammed the territory and its economy hard, with a total destruction of an estimated $3 billion. Yet the plan notes that many of the territory's neighbors suffered similar setbacks and seem to be recovering better than the Virgin Islands.
Much of the territory's problem, it suggests, is internal: distrust between the public and private sector, lack of controls over spending at the department and agency level, lack of controls over personnel services costs, failure to make revenues match expenditures, and a stagnant economy.