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Sunday, August 14, 2022
HomeNewsCandidate InterviewsWhere The Senate Candidates Stand: Ray Fonseca

Where The Senate Candidates Stand: Ray Fonseca

Ray Fonseca

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.

Ray Fonseca served briefly as executive director of the V.I. Housing Authority in 2003 after working at the authority in several capacities for 17 years. In 2018, he ran for the office of lieutenant governor as Warren Mosler’s running mate. Born and raised on St Thomas, Fonseca has a bachelor’s in management from Florida State University and a master’s in business administration from the University of the Virgin Islands.

Here are the responses from Fonseca:

What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?

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Fonseca: My top priorities are Education, WAPA and the GERS.

I have promoted my 5-step plan to fix WAPA. I will submit legislation to have the Legislature:

1. Establish milestones for WAPA such as reducing the cost per kilo watt hour. And WAPA management will be required to submit their plans to find new customers and expand operations.

2. The Governor must declare a WAPA state of emergency.

3. The VI Legislature must enact laws granting sufficient authority to the PSC to regulate WAPA and not just set rates. A December 19, 2019 PSC report states WAPA lists 1.2 Billion dollars in liabilities. WAPA must provide their plan for reducing these liabilities.

4. WAPA must present the details of their 2018 series B bond anticipation notes and their plan to improve their default negative rating. WAPA bonds are rated as junk status or class Caa 3 by both Moody’s and Fitch rating services. WAPA may have 49 million in bonds that are pending default.

5. WAPA management will be held accountable to improve operations.

But please permit me to briefly divert to a major issue that the Senators refuse to quell. Under no circumstances can Senators salary increases be even considered. The People of our community are suffering. Many in our community are living day to day and many are one step away from financial problems. My fellow Virgin Islanders I ask you to consider what are the real intentions of the current Senators when they continue to have this pay increase issue linger?

Most importantly is Education. Education must teach financial literacy at a young age to our children.

The entire community has a responsibility to educate students, not just teachers and staff in schools. Families, as well as businesses, social service agencies, and community colleges & universities, all play a vital role in this effort.

Education will need a 15-year plan to fix major structural items such as, Old school buildings, ramp up maintenance staffing, improve our students low test scores and, inadequate teacher incentives

The 15-year Education plan will also detail a new approved curriculum such as:

a. making our students think,

b. encouraging our students to be more creative,

c. supporting that students follow their passion

d. Education must start training our children to become entrepreneurs

e. teaching them about money, revolving credit, and installment debt.

f. We must train our children to create wealth. Currently over 95 % of our children are seeking to work for someone else.

g. Education must teach our children the trades, and hospitality classes. Construction and Tourism are major industries in the V.I.

Education is teaching and learning. Someone is teaching and someone is learning. So, to improve education we must improve teaching and learning. Children are born with a vast voracious appetite for learning. From in the womb, our children are learning. You never have to teach your children to speak. Learning comes naturally for children. Our children’s future must not be determined by their parent’s affluence, wealth, or education levels.

Teachers must recognize that they hold the tools of power in their hands. The teachers are the persons who can most improve education. So, we must provide the teachers and the head teachers and the Principals with the tools and empower them.

Education must contribute to our long-term economic health and sustainability. Our education system must teach our children adaptability.

There are now massive amounts of information and online courses available. We must move toward the 21 century ways of teaching and learning

If your child is good at math and poor in grammar, the average school and parent makes the child study more grammar. We must think differently. Do not miss our next Albert Einstein. Maybe this is your sign to encourage the child’s math development.

If the child is excellent in Math. Maybe this is the child’s passion in life. Invest in this passion. Let us not punish for the areas they do not excel. Instead let us encourage them in the areas they are brilliant.

Oprah Winfrey was demoted from an anchor woman and thrown in as a talk show host. They wanted to get rid of her. But she discovered talk show was her passion. Oprah says that after her first talk show she knew she found her passion. It was so natural to her.

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?

Fonseca: To immediately address these problems, we will submit Legislation to accomplish the following:

1. To restructure the V.I. debt and significantly reduce our current debt interest payments. V.I. Bonds are triple-tax-exempt investments and must be utilized to our advantage. VI Bonds are free from municipal, state, and federal taxes.

2. Require the V.I. Government must be current with all audited financial statements. And immediately Implement the Sept 2017 Public Finance Authority Audit.

3. Government leases and Procurement of contracts must also be audited.

4. The Office of the Inspector General will be fully funded.

5. Implement a non-resident sales Tax as for additional revenue generation.

6. Offer incentives to encourage hotel tourists to spend more money locally and cruise ship passengers to spend more money on the island rather than on the ships.

How will you help make government more transparent?

Fonseca: I will submit legislation to:

1. Require that the Commissioner of Finance, the Director of Management and Budget and the IRB director inform the Legislature if Income taxes or GERS retirement payments are not paid on time.

2. Require the V.I. Government must be current with all audited financial statements. and immediately Implement the Sept 2017 Public Finance Authority Audit.

3. Government leases and Procurement of contracts must also be audited.

4. The Office of the Inspector General will be fully funded. We will also grant the Inspector General authority to directly prosecute forensic audits.

5. Increase the penalty of perjury for legislative testimony under oath.

4) 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?

This will depend on numerous factors. However, I will be very prudent and cautious about this area. I will consult with the Post Auditor and act accordingly. Sometimes the matter can be so important that it requires legislation to move forward.

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?

Fonseca: This will depend on numerous factors. However, I will be very prudent and cautious about this area. I will review this matter very carefully and act accordingly. Sometimes the Boards are necessary or requires legislation to move forward.

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?

Fonseca: The following is an extremely condensed summary of my plan to fix the GERS:

1. According to Segal the GERS actuary, in 2017 the GERS projected shortfall was 185,523,490. In 2018 the GERS Projected Shortfall was 194,544,533. I have not seen the 2019 report yet. Let us assume 2019 is the same trend losing even more at 200,000,000. We project the GERS has lost around 581 million over the last three years.

2. So, to extend the GERS life for three years, we must float 581 million dollars in bonds. Note: After three years the other portions of my plan will be fully implemented.

We project we can float the 581 million in bonds at 4.5 percent.

To pay for this, we need an additional 29 Million per year.

To get this 29 million to repay these Rum cover over Bonds we Earmark the current 14 cent per gallon tax on gasoline (which now goes to WAPA) to the GERS. This is around 5 million dollars and is already coming in so it will not cost the VI Government anymore. The difference between the gasoline tax and the amortization of the bonds means we need 24 million.

3. In the short term, we will take the 24 million to pay for the 581 million in bonds directly from the rum cover over money. This same plan has been pushed for many years by the GERS retirees. So, let us do it now.

4. In exchange the GERS will be required to hand over their 120 acres of land at Estates Hoffman and Nullyberg on St. Thomas and their 170 acres of land at Estate Coakley Bay on St. Croix. This will generate millions of dollars for the GVI in homeownership sales and property taxes. But this is part of my homeownership plan.

5. Getting back to solving the GERS, we will work more closely with the Federal government and restructure our bonds to lower the rates. We get a federal tax subsidy with the cover over dollars so investors should be relatively comfortable purchasing our bonds. Restructuring our bonds will save the VI over $30 million each year in interest expense. So, we use these 30 million savings to amortize our GERS Bonds.

6. I will submit Legislation to pass laws to hold those VI Government officials accountable who are responsible to pay GERS contributions on time (for example the Finance Commissioner and the OMB Director) could be held in contempt.

7. To solve the GERS long term. We must have much larger number of employees contributing to the system compared to those receiving benefits. So, my plan proposes, the Legislature change the law and open the GERS all interested Virgin Islanders. We create a Tier 3 retirement plan for all new government employees and all new private sector employees. This will ensure thousands of new private sector employees will have better retirement benefits and comprehensive health insurance coverage. The tier 3 plan contributions will be a little more than the tier 2 and receive a little less benefit. Overall, thousands of private sector employees will opt into the new retirement plan once they are comfortable it is secure.

These actions reduce the unfunded liability and lead toward GERS viability.

Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?

Fonseca: I support Medical Marijuana. The Legislatures role is to review the proposals before it and create laws to enable this industry to grow and flourish.

What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?

Fonseca: Our goal is to have SAFER COMMUNITIES.

I will submit legislation to:

1. Require that the Department of Education in coordination with the Department of Public Works teach the trades in school. Because we believe the lack of trade skills contributes to higher unemployment. And high unemployment leads to crime. The Government must offer more incentives to private businesses to hire students

2. Provide financial incentives to encourage more No profit community-based organizations to provide rehabilitation programs so prosecutors and Judges will have alternate remedies for offenders instead of mostly prison.

3. Statistics show Jail is expensive and does not solve community problems. We need to invest more money in law enforcement crime prevention measures such as security cameras.

4. The Crime Stoppers Program must be expanded with more financial incentives offered to those that offer crime clues.

5. We will offer legislation to invalidate leases and permit eviction of tenants that are in possession of illegal guns.

We need to care more about crime specifically black on black murders, we need to care more about Human rights, dignity, and Justice. It is time for us to realize the criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. Perhaps we need to downsize our prison system. Prison is too expensive; it is gotten out of hand.

Prosecutors need to be equipped to recommend alternate punitive actions other than jail time. Give prosecutors more power of discretion. Provide more intervention for offenders. A criminal record impacts one for their lifetime. It makes it more difficult to find a job, seek education or obtain stable housing. Prosecutors should recommend more community service for minor offenders and emphasize giving back to the community.

At home, our children must be taught more discipline, respect for elders and to cooperate with others.

Our kids must learn patience, dedication, adaptability, and persistence. There is too much lack of discipline and excess crime in our community.

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?

Fonseca: Climate change is real, and it must be addressed.

Natural disasters cost the V. I. Billions. Proper Hurricane preparation is important for the Virgin Islands. Almost every year there are deaths and accidents attributed to the weather.

The Virgin Islands are vastly different compared to the continental United States. We cannot do mandatory evacuations or drive somewhere else to ride out the storm. Storms can form very quickly in our immediate area even before the National Weather Service (NWS) has spotted it. Sending a hurricane tracking aircraft will be too late to provide us with warnings and updates. This scenario happened just last year with the extremely Deadly Hurricane Dorian that pulverized the Bahamas.

Also, when a major storm is threatening the mainland USA the NWS focus and attention is shifted and the V.I. is left with inadequate and sparse weather reports.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is immensely helpful and they provide regular storm updates. We plot these coordinates on our maps. But sometimes as we have painfully experienced, their predictions are sometimes inaccurate. The buoys placed in the ocean by The National Weather Service to plot storms coordinates, including wind speed, pressure, etc. can move or mal function during a storm and lead to inaccurate projections.

It is my position that the Virgin Islands for our own public safety, must develop the ability to predict storm tracks. So, I shall submit legislation to petition the Federal Government to approve an agreement between the V.I. and other Leeward Islands to share Hurricane information.

We need this agreement because the storms usually travel in a North West pattern, so other Leeward Caribbean Islands may have experienced the storm and have good data the V.I. can utilize way before it reaches us.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also needs to be in the loop. And we must address the issues of the Coast Guard being able to close our ports without prior consultation with our Government agencies. The Coast Guard sometimes leaves the Islands before major storms and they lack adequate manpower in the Virgin Islands. They closed the Shipping ports after Hurricane Irma and Maria.

There must be improved coordination between the Coast Guard and the Army corps concerning dredging and harbor clean up.

We need to be able to track storms better. So, I will submit legislation for VITEMA to purchase our own local VI Doppler radar system. The legislation will also monitor WAPA regarding implementing their plans to harden the main electrical distribution system.

Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?

Fonseca: My fellow Virgin Islanders I am Ray Fonseca your Senatorial candidate number 6 on your ballot. I have provided you with solutions to the major issues facing the Virgin Islands. I have a plan to fix the GERS, to fix WAPA and an affordable local homeownership plan. I the only candidate with experience serving as Chief Executive Officer of a local VI Government Agency. I have the accountability, the knowledge, and the transparency to provide Legislative oversight. Bust most important elect me as your senator because I have the people’s interest first. PUSH NUMBER 6 (in the St. Thomas St. John district) on your ballot.

Breakthrough innovation and extraordinary results will happen when our V.I. people decide to finally break the norms and improve standards.

Let us start where we are now. Let us begin to make lemonade out of lemons.

I believe there are few limitations to one’s capacity except those that one sets up in their own mind.

For many Virgin Islanders they have already hit rock bottom. But rock bottom is the best foundation on which to build and grow. No matter what the case, there is a gorgeous opportunity hidden inside this setback. First Let us stop blaming our problems on others and the system. Let us choose a unified community and reject division.

But please permit me to briefly divert to a major issue that the Senators refuse to quell. Under no circumstances can Senators salary increases be even considered. The People of our community are suffering. Many in our community are living day to day and many are one step away from financial problems. My fellow Virgin Islanders I ask you to consider what are the real intentions of the current Senators when they continue to have this pay increase issue linger?

So, therefore I come before you today. Asking you to review the choices you have for the VI Legislature and on November 3, 2020 to elect me Ray Fonseca. PUSH NUMBER 6 ON YOUR BALLOT

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