To try to inform the community on where the candidates stand, the Source sent each senatorial candidate a questionnaire with questions on pressing issues for the territory. We are running the answers in the order in which the candidates responded. (See Related Links, below.) We aim to publish all the Democratic Party candidates answers prior to the Aug. 4 primary, contingent upon the candidates providing their responses in time. This story covers the views and planned initiatives of Candidate Randolph Thomas who is running as a Democratic candidate in the St. Thomas/St. John District.
Randolph Thomas has served as the director of planning, research, and evaluation, and the Virgin Islands Virtual Information System (VIVIS) project director for the Department of Education. He also has government experience though his time spent working in the Department of Labor and the Virgin Islands Legislature.
Source: The V.I. government has a $100 million-plus annual deficit, currently cannot borrow on the private market and is not paying many of its obligations, to GERS, to WAPA, territorial nonprofits, sewage treatment contractors, trash haulers, health care contractors and more. But the territory has never missed a debt payment on its $2 billion in debt. Half of that is secured by federal rum taxes which pay creditors before the territory gets control of the funds and half is secured by V.I. Gross Receipts taxes which, by statute, IRB is supposed to give to a third party to pay creditors first. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first? What is your fiscal and economic plan?
Thomas: Our government has been irresponsible in its approach to deficits by borrowing more and more money. This policy and practice have gotten us to this point of near disaster. In addition, the workforce ratio between the public and private sector contributes to an underperforming economy.
We must grow our economy and identify where revenues are lost through inefficiency, corruption and missed opportunities. We must improve government operations: reduce corruption, reduce overall government inefficiency and pass balanced budgets.
We can only FIX these problems from a holistic perspective as reflected in my platform priorities:
– Growing our economy, by re-building the Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission Program, establishing a global e-commerce component to the Small Business Development Center, and aggressively pursuing structured public-private partnership investments to generate public revenue.
– A comprehensive, sustainable Closed-Circuit TV/ camera surveillance program to solve and reduce crime and monitor and fine those who litter.
– Prioritizing the return to solvency of the Government Employees Retirement System.
– Change education policies, practices and funding to improve educational outcomes.
– Use technology to manage government more efficiently, raise revenues, balance the budget and create transparency.
– Establish a technical school to train our young people to meet the workforce needs of the territory and have an income reflecting the cost of living in this community.
Source: Many young Virgin Islanders are seeking educational and financial opportunity outside of the territory. What plans will you execute to encourage those that remain to stay, and to get those that have left to return?
Thomas: Well, we certainly cannot argue with young people who search for educational and financial opportunities outside of the territory. We support the desire for self-improvement. Our government has allowed instructional trade programs in the public-school system to vanish. If we encourage our young people to stay in the Virgin Islands, we must make sure they can have the opportunities to prosper.
We will establish policies to provide a broad set of training curricula, which must include technology such as code writing. We will provide opportunities in business ownership, jobs and homeownership. Our young people must also be paid at a level in concert with the cost of living. They must know they could make a life for themselves and their family. The ability to accomplish these objectives takes a comprehensive policy approach such as defined in my platform.
Source: What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2023?
Thomas: At this time, the GERS stated unfunded liability is $2.8 billion. The legislature enacted 9 unfunded mandates without a funding source which has fiscally burdened the GERS. The stated position of the government is that it should only be required to pay the statutorily determined amount and not the funds calculated by the actuary. A key aspect of system’s sustainability is the fiscal health of the central government. My policies, when instituted will shift the central government towards fiscal health. GERS initially needs a large infusion of cash. Our governor and senators must recognize that GERS’ bankruptcy would be bad for all residents and businesses in the V.I.
As senator I will contribute greatly to the fiscal security of GERS and its member annuity by reducing government waste, collecting outstanding funds, by growing the economy; and ensuring that GERS gets a percentage of all new revenues collected by the government.
Source: How will you help make government more transparent?
Thomas: Government operations is the people’s business. The government should make information available in a timely manner when requested by the public and media. The people should have access to information regarding government operations.
I will use the senate’s oversight powers and offer requisite legislation to ensure that our government uses an amalgamation of print media, radio, town meetings and technology and the internet/websites to make government more transparent.
Source: How do you feel about legalization of marijuana and why?
Thomas: Today, marijuana is universally available and used in our community. I believe that current laws and practices regarding marijuana are less positive to the islands that if proper legislation were to be enacted regarding marijuana use and regulation. Presently we get all the negative effects of marijuana in the VI community without its benefits. With proper new legislation we can change the impact of marijuana in the Virgin Islands community to protect our children and provide economic benefits.
Source: What can you as an elected official do to help alleviate violent crime in the territory?
Thomas: We must clean up corruption. We must build our community where there are recreational and athletic activities for any interested youth or adult. We must provide job and occupational training for youths. We must create good jobs.
I will work other senators to establish a comprehensive, sustainable camera surveillance program to prevent and prosecute crime. We must establish incentives for the rule of law and order.
Source: How do you see your role in overseeing government agencies?
Thomas: The Legislature has a major mandate in overseeing the government; a US constitutional “checks and balance” role. This is another area where our senators have failed.
I see the budget writing power as providing great latitude in a senator’s oversight responsibility. I see government oversight as a major responsibility in the role of Senator. Legislative oversight serves to ensure that the sitting government works in the interest of the people and provides a check on the powers of the governor.
Source: Why are you running and why should voters choose you instead of another candidate?
Thomas: I am running for senator because I am aware of the precarious state of our government and its negative impact on all of us in the Virgin Islands. I know that the Virgin Islands are in this state due to the poor performance of our representatives. I know that the Virgin Islands has great potential for prosperity and a better life for all the people. I have had great success in my work. I am Innovator of technology systems implementation; successful management of more than 8 million federal grants; created, managed and directed program to ensure collaboration in decision-making; successful acquisition approximately $3 million in federal grants; Project Director of Multiple major projects: Power School and the Virgin Islands Virtual Information System, Vital Statistic system in Health Department’ managed the AYP decisions for schools with integrity and fairness.
I have, the strength, courage, intellect, knowledge, compassion, passion, commitment and experience. See my priorities in answer to question number.
Source: What will you do to mitigate the effects of climate change on the territory?
Thomas: I have a keen concern for a clean and protected environment. My concerns and action will be centered around controlling waste and protecting our environment. While, I am concern about the effects and impact of climate change as it relates to temperatures, hurricanes etc., I believe our territory’s contribution to climate change is negligible. I will use all opportunities to add our voice to those who work to limit the effects of climate change.
Source: What is your plan to improve the schools and the quality of public education in the territory?
Thomas: I must first state that our students, our children, are not a bunch of failures. I know many of our students who attend and have attended excellent colleges and universities throughout the United States and hold good jobs today. I worked in the performance reporting section of the Department of Education where I established systems to improve management of student information, improve federal and local reporting and make data accessible to all stakeholders. We however are not doing well by too many of our students. Schools need to be modernized.
I plan to change the policies, practices processes and funding for better student outcomes. I would forward legislation to require annual performance reporting from the Department of Education to the Legislature and people of the Virgin Islands. I will ensure that all educational stakeholders are involved in major decision-making.
Source: How will you ensure that adequate funding is put toward healthcare services in the territory?
Thomas: In the Virgin Islands, the pre-hurricane demographic data of the Virgin Islands will show a disproportionate number of elderly and sick residents. I will spare no effort to engage with local and federal officials to find funding and identify policies and processes to ensure that our residents have access to good health care. I will engage in structured oversight to ensure that those our health systems function the way that they should.
Source: A significant amount of post-hurricane recovery on St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas was made possible by non-profit organizations and volunteer groups. But private donations are down and budget deficits make more funding difficult. What would you, as a legislator, suggest to help support these community groups?
Thomas: The government must improve its fiscal condition and overall function to properly provide for the needs of the residents of the Virgin Islands. The nonprofits and volunteer groups will recover as the Virgin Islands economy improves. As businesses and professionals recover our non-profits will recover and the government will be in a better financial position to support these activities. These groups play a much-needed role in the Virgin Islands life.
Source: What do you as a senator believe should be priorities for infrastructure, parking and walkability on St. John? On St. Croix? On St. Thomas?
Thomas: Proper Infrastructure is important to making the daily lives of Virgin Islanders less frustrating. It improves the people’s quality of life. Proper Infrastructure is vital to our economy. Moving people easily and quickly is vital to the economic. We must establish centralized park and ride and part and walk centers. These midpoints must incorporate incentives for residents to use them safely, comfortably and joyfully.
Source: The Revised Organic Act of 1954 gives the V.I. Legislature the power to establish a USVI constitution by any means it chooses. Currently, the territory cannot charge different property tax rates to different parts of the territory. The territory could set up property tax districts if it enacted a constitution. What should the Legislature do in regards to a USVI constitution?
Thomas: The Virgins Islands desperately needs a constitution. I strongly support any effort for a V.I. Constitution. I believe that we should begin now to educate all the people of the Virgin Islands about why the VI needs a constitution and what are its benefits to citizens and residents. Some property owners of St. John desperately need property tax relief. We must get this done.
Redistricting to Produce Accountability In Those We Elect
– The policies that are necessary to change our direction must be legislated by our elected representatives.
– People are always afraid of change but if a system does not serve you well, the answer is not to stop voting but to support change.
– The persons elected to legislate change, will not do so if they are not accountable to the people who elect them. Currently there is a very weak link between those elected and the people. We need a more direct link between voter and their representatives.
– Accountability is one of the bedrocks of representative government. Its absence always leads to the state we find ourselves in now and eventually long-term instability. An accountable political system is one in which the government is responsible to the voters to the highest degree possible. Accountability at the individual level is the ability of the electorate to effectively check on those who, betray the promises they made during the campaign or demonstrate incompetence or idleness in office and ‘throw the rascals out’. I believe in accountability through one representative per district.