The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves where they stand on some of the most pressing issues of the day. You can see all the candidates’ responses and more election news here.
Sen. Allison DeGazon is an incumbent, freshman senator representing St. Croix. She was elected in 2018. DeGazon is the owner of Cruzan Organix Farm, Inc. and Business Strategies, Inc. She has also served as director of unemployment insurance at the Department of Labor and assistant director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency.
Here are DeGazon’s responses:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
DeGazon: As a legislator, we have competing priorities. However, there are some areas that we may be inclined to focus on more versus others. I remain very concerned with the development and success of small businesses inclusive of farms and agriculture-related businesses. Small businesses need an environment that is conducive to economic growth. We have to draft and implement legislation that gives them relief, provides opportunities to access capital, timely payments, balances regulation and better infrastructure. I submitted legislation to assist with the creation of a more conducive environment for growth.
The V.I. government had ongoing deficits before the pandemic hit and now faces a sharp loss in revenue due to a significant decrease in tourism. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first?
DeGazon: Currently, the government’s revenues outpaced its expenditures even with the COVID pandemic. This was realized after the recent reconciliation of the government’s finances. However, in order to remain in a positive financial position, we must push revenue-generating measures and continue to implement belt-tightening initiatives in each department. There needs to be constant communication on a quarterly basis between the executive and legislative branches to ensure implementation takes place.
How will you help make government more transparent?
DeGazon: The Government of the Virgin Islands is more transparent now than it ever has been. As a senator, I make it a point to let my constituents affected by my legislation know about the results and about the process that led to decisions I make in the form of votes. The Senate wanted more transparency and submitted legislation that allows constituents to get access to the GVI’s financial picture. This transparency has been expanded into the local Office of Management and Budget’s website under the tagline of USVI Transparency. Residents can log on to omb.vi.gov and see the government’s finances inclusive of expenditures and revenues in real-time.
The V.I. Legislature has on many occasions enacted unfunded mandates, from mandatory swimming classes or the unfunded Durant Tower project in Frederiksted, that never occur due to the lack of funding. Will you vote for mandates that government officials have testified require funding that is not provided in the legislation?
DeGazon: The 33rd Legislature made it a point to not enact any unfunded mandates. These legislations have great intent but are not implemented due to insufficient funds. I made a decision to not submit such legislation or support such legislation. If I really believe the measure has merit, I am willing to work with the sponsor to find the funding, if available. As a senator, I have to make sure I perform the necessary research and communication with the Finance Committee, the Legislature’s Post-Audit Division and the Office of Management and Budget to find the money needed to support my legislation. Additionally, it is one of my responsibilities to generate revenue not put an unnecessary burden on its limited financial resources.
The territory has around 120 boards and commissions at present, most of which are unable to make quorums and many, like the Civil Rights Commission, the Maritime Academy Board, the Commission on Caribbean Cooperation and the V.I. Wage Board, have not operated in many years. Would you ever vote to create another board or commission and if so, under what circumstances?
DeGazon: As I reflect on legislation passed during the 33rd Legislature, I can actually see the use for the Maritime Academy Board as it will support my Blue Economy Bill #33-0137 – now Act No. 8301 – and the Civil Rights Commission would be instrumental in the development of the Disability Integration Unit Bill I submitted and was recently funded by the senate. I cannot say I will not call for a new board. Some of these boards are innovative in nature and the sponsor could be thinking ahead. Here we are in the 33rd Legislature and I can see the use for some of these boards. I agree, there are a lot of boards and the senate should think two and three times before legislating for any new ones.
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 2024?
DeGazon: I recently voted in favor of the securitization bill because I wanted to see what new opportunities the market had to offer to reduce our bond payments. Due to unforeseen lawsuit, the securitization may not be a reality. This was our attempt to offer a partial solution to a huge problem. In several working sessions, my colleagues and I have attacked the problems in two parts: structural reform and financial reform. Several senators have submitted legislation to bring revenue and structural resolutions to the GERS problem. Finally, we have been researching funded mandates for sunset dates to see where we can redirect money that has sunset clauses to GERS.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
DeGazon: I support medicinal marijuana. The Senate recently passed legislation to begin funding resources and organizing the board’s needs to get the medical marijuana board in action. The executive branch has been slow in the implementation and we have taken the lead in getting it off the ground. We hope to generate revenue that will help to fill several financial gaps in the territory.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
DeGazon: Limited employment, gaps in education, not enough preventative programs, stronger legislation for gun violence, a lack of partnership with faith-based organizations and a police department in need of more resources and training has contributed to the increase of crime and gun violence. California created a task force with members from all sects of the community in each county to deal with violent crime. They were able to improve their statistics. I believe this can be a reality here as well. There is a major need for more public-private partnerships throughout the territory.
Climate change is a growing threat to Virgin Islanders with a myriad of effects ranging from an increase in tropical storms to more severe health issues as a result of warming temperatures. What types of policies will you support to educate the community on the risks of climate change and to increase the territory’s preparation and mitigation efforts?
DeGazon: I am very happy to answer this question. I submitted three pieces of legislation that seek to mitigate the effects of climate change and increase the awareness of this important topic. Stormwater Bill #33-0037 (Act No. 8279), Well and Aquifer Bill #33-0065 (Act No. 8280) and Blue Economy Bill #33-0137 (Act No. 8301), all seek to improve the environment including the ocean. All of these were signed into law. I understand that we have to consider all the items that impact our home and make specific moves to stay ahead of the deterioration due to climate change. I have drafted measures that help to strengthen the agriculture infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure and precious marine resources. All of my measures are now law.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
DeGazon: St. Croix should trust my leadership because I am experienced with government and private affairs and executed programs that are still in process in several departments. I have the heart to serve my people and the experience and fortitude to fight for them. As a first-term senator, I demonstrated that I have the competence, discipline and ability to execute. I have been the primary sponsor on over 13 bills that became law in my first term. The people deserve a legislator who has demonstrated excellence and understands how to develop a solid agenda for St. Croix. I know I have done that for the island of St. Croix, and even the territory. I am humbly asking for their support to allow me to continue the work on their behalf. Please vote for Allison DeGazon, #10 on the ballot.