Feb. 15, 2005 It is anybody's guess what the cost of President Bush's "slash and burn budget" will be to the Virgin Islands, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said Tuesday, but it will be high.
From the Weed and Seed programs to Medicaid, none of Bush's cuts to social and health programs will be any good for the territory, Christensen said at the annual meeting of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, where she was the keynote speaker.
On the Medicaid front, she said the only good news was, "All of the states will be fighting along side of us to save the program and to provide full funding."
And, she said, it will be up to the executive and legislative branches of the local government to step up to the plate to make up for the losses.
"I point these things out, not to create an atmosphere of alarm … but to underscore the urgency of our government having to be more efficient, more competent, more transparent, more responsible, more focused and more responsive to the needs of the people that it serves."she said.
Christensen also discussed her current Congressional initiatives, including the controversial CFO bill, as it is known.
The bill, which will soon move from committee where it has already been passed to the floor of the U.S. Senate, calls for the appointment of an independent chief financial officer for the territory, who would be tasked with oversight of all government spending.
"I believe the people of the Virgin Islands want and are ready for financial accountability," she said. "They were fed up, long before I decided to act, with the mismanagement and siphoning off of the territory's resources." She added that Virgin Islanders, "have been calling for a way to reverse corruption, waste and abuse that has characterized the handling of contracts, money and workplace ethics for so long."
Christensen said her bill was not the only way to go, "Anyone of our fifteen senators or the governor himself could propose legislation to define qualifications and make the person holding the office of OMB director "dismissible" only for cause and we would achieve much of what I am aiming for with my bill."
On another pressing issues, Christensen said she was optimistic about the Economic Development Commission program for the long term. She said clearing up the rules and regulations that is supposedly taking place in Washington at the Treasury Department right now can only clear up the confusion surrounding the tax benefits program that contributes significantly to the territory's treasury.
Congress passed a bill at the end of 2004 that radically changed the rules under which the program was operating, threatening the loss of dozens of businesses that contribute directly as must as 20 percent of the territory's revenues.
She said, "Just last Friday I met with a new applicant," who she said has a "many billion dollar business, chiefly foreign dollars" and who wants to bring his money back to the U.S. "And I am sure there are many others, so I remain hopeful."
But the EDC program is another area that Christensen said she couldn't balance alone. She said efforts need to be, and have been made locally. She applauded Neil and Trudy Prior for bringing House of Representatives Majority Whip Roy Blunt to the territory last year.
Though she also praised the governor or lieutenant governor, and their Washington lobbyist's for "their recent well-reasoned submission to the Treasury Department on the proposed regulations, and former Sen. Dyke Redfield for his timely and well positioned help," she also said that when the House-Senate Conference Committee was working on the final version of the Jobs Act, she was on her own.
"There was a compromise suggestion in response to our objections to the Senate language that would have excluded all businesses," from the onerous bill, "except for the financial services companies.
"In the time I had, neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor could be reached, so the onus was on me to say yea or nay," Christensen said.
She opted to address the issues on behalf of all companies, she said, adding, "If we had left financial services companies out in the cold that would have been it for them."
Christensen cleared the air, kind of, on another issue Tuesday rumors that she may vie for Government House in 2006.
"Being governor has never been a goal for me," she said. Instead, she said she was looking for someone who she could support and that there was one person who fit her criteria: someone who was" running for the right reason, had the skills most needed at this time and who had demonstrated not just talked about commitment to this community above self."
After the meeting Christensen said her support right now goes to John de Jongh, who ran for governor in 2002. One caveat, she said, in maintaining her endorsement was that he needs to be able to win.
She said that was critical, because the "stakes are high, because the status quo is simply not acceptable."
"And so I am not now running," she said. "I would prefer to stay where I am, utilizing the skills, seniority and influence gained, with a strong executive team in place that has a compatible vision and has the skills and know-how, as well as the courage and determination to take us finally fully into the 21st century." However, she added, "If there is any possibility that the second, or any part of that equation is in question, feel free to come back and talk to me."
As for the fallout from the Bush budget cuts, Christensen said, the tally won't be in until the appropriations bill is finalized at the end of the year.
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