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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 21, 2024


The governor announced late Monday afternoon via a Government House press release that he was calling a special session of the Legislature Thursday morning "to consider several bills to address the financial situation of the government."
Senators went to bed on Tuesday night having learned no more than that. The Finance Committee chair, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, had meanwhile written to the governor pointing out that the Senate's legal and financial experts "need time for analysis of any proposed legislation." He told the governor: "We cannot anticipate a productive session unless this information has been properly reviewed."
How much time for analysis? How much proper review? A day?
The governor's "several bills" — which turn out to be six, most of them multi-part, taking up 18 printed pages single spaced — were delivered to the Legislature in the dark of night Tuesday, reportedly around 10 p.m. There is no reason to believe that any lawmakers were at their desks at that hour waiting to peruse what the governor presented.
Thus, senators and their post audit and legal experts had one day — Wednesday — in which to attempt to digest what turns out to be a fiscal feast of proposed new taxing, borrowing and spending. It took them no time at all to sink their teeth into proposals to reduce government spending, however; there is but one: to revert from biweekly to semi-monthly pay periods. (This will not affect what employees are paid; the savings, such as they are, will be in check-printing, direct-deposit processing and the like — and the measure will avoid the dreaded three-pay-period month.)
The territory, if we the public believe what we have been told by the administration, is facing a budget deficit of $115 million come Sept. 30 — as predicted in 2000 almost to the dime, we might add, by the Five-Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan if we continued a business-as-usual course. If we believe what some leaders have said since a District Court ruling last week imposing an moratorium on the collecting of property taxes from 1999 onward until the government gets its act together on assessments, we can add another $40 million to that pending deficit.
Of course, we have been told so many different things by the administration from one year to the next and even from one month to the next that we may have trouble swallowing what we are being told now without time to chew on it. Time for analysis, for proper review.
Questions quickly come to mind on the spending and borrowing issues: Why, with a dozen years of previous opportunities to do so, should the government at this moment decide to provide $10 million in credit enhancement for the financing of the Carifest theme park? Why, when rooms go begging at existing hotels, should the government commit to spending $80 million to build and operate another of 250 rooms on St. Croix? How does the government think it can pay off another $235 million in bond indebtedness?
The administration persists in a longstanding and long-detrimental practice of management by crisis — through crisis after crisis after crisis. There has been no dearth of meaningful planning. What's been painfully and shamefully missing is meaningful implementation of meaningful strategies to attain meaningful objectives.
The governor said in a letter to Donastorg on Monday that his financial team was "finalizing their recommendations to address the government's financial situation." In other words, the "several bills" were at that point still in the works.
He told the Senate president that "my financial team will be available to testify on the urgent need for these provisions and to provide any other information which the members of the Senate may need in its deliberations."
On Thursday? The potpourri of proposals is enough to keep legislative staff and lawmakers busy for weeks — at least — of intensive research, analysis, review, discussion, debate, consensus building and, oh yes, public input. The administration has not asked the public what it thinks about how the fiscal crisis might best be resolved. Nor, if it truly expects the Senate to act Thursday on its "several bills," does it intend to do so.
The 25-member "financial team" assembled by the governor after he announced the fiscal crisis on April 24 provided no community input; it consists entirely of government employees. The bills reflect the familiar protectiveness of the government for its own at the expense of the community it exists to serve — and the familiar failure to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the taxpayers and the tax spenders.
The Legislature bears responsibility and must accept accountability for what happens on Thursday. Its decisions could make or break the territory's prospects of avoiding bankruptcy. The lawmakers must not be strong-armed into acting before they understand the implications of what they are acting upon — and of what other, more viable, alternatives they might opt for instead.
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