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. Steven D. Payne is running for reelection on the Democratic Party ticket for the territory’s sole at-large seat, reserved by law for a St. John resident. Payne was raised on St. Thomas. He has a bachelor’s in public school music education from Norfolk State University and taught band at Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas. His brother Clarence Payne is a former senator.
Steven Payne attended Leonard Dober and Joseph Gomez Elementary Schools, Bertha C Boschulte Junior High School and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas. Upon graduating from high school, Mr. Payne volunteered for one school year at his alma mater Ivanna Eudora Kean as the interim band director. He started the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School Marching Band.
Later, he joined the V.I. Police Department, where he worked for 18 years.
Here are the responses from Payne:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Payne: My top priority will be to ensure that my actions in representing the people as a legislator are always above board. Also, I will do everything in my power to ensure that I never dishonor the institution or the people of the Virgin Islands who I serve. The people of the Virgin Islands have entrusted me to honorably serve them in finding solutions to enhance the quality of life and my failure to honorably discharge such duties would create economic and financial hardships for the residents of this precious place that we call our home.
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?
Payne: COVID-19 has placed a negative trajectory on our government’s fiscal outlook. In order to avoid a fiscal shortfall which force cuts to services or government layoffs in order to pay vendors first, we must collectively look at prioritization of spending, which may include reduce spending; multi-year budget forecasting; maximization of federal dollars; and We MUST be financially prudent.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Payne: The Territory’s Sunshine Act is adequate in ensuring transparency of government. Transparency is paramount to achieving accountability to the and trust of the residents of the Virgin Islands. With our overarching responsibility of the Executive Branch, I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure the Legislature is able to efficiently and proficiently fulfill its mandate of revising policies and drafting legislations. Additionally, I believe that because of the pandemic, more of our residents are in tune with social media more than ever before. Therefore, I intend to work with the executive and the judicial branch to utilize Legit TV, the government access channel and social media platforms to ensure that all branches of government operate in a more transparent manner.
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?
Payne: The 33rd Legislature has ensured that funding is identified and attached to legislation requiring funding. I will not vote for legislation that testifiers have mandated requires funding.
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?
Payne: The Administration is currently working on prioritizing submitting nominees to the Legislature for approval to ensure that quorums on the already existing boards are met. If the creation of an additional board or commission is important to the success or well-being of our children, our seniors, public health, public safety and the economy of the Virgin Islands, I will vote in the affirmative.
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?
Payne: First, to ensure that the GERS does not collapse nor the realization of exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2023 there must be in huge infuse investment of cash into the system. Secondly there must be a restructuring of the entire GERS system to include the possible development of a hybrid public/private employee system; revisions to the current GERS statute Finally we must ensure that mandates are in place that will ensure that the GERS portfolio reflects sound investments in technology such as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. Technology as everyone can see has become a staple in the lives of just about every family, business, agency and community on the planet and will be with us for generations to come.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Payne: My support of MEDICINAL marijuana is based on the proven health benefits which are immeasurable. The properly regulated medicinal marijuana industry can be a new revenue stream for the Virgin Islands. The Senate’s role in getting medicinal cannabis to the market and generating tax revenue will be to ensure that strong legislation is adopted that will afford local business men and the farmers the opportunity to benefit as business entrepreneurs. Creating and adapting regulations for local businessmen will ensure that the revenues that are generated from this new market will not only remain locally but benefit our tax system by creating a new revenue stream along with gainful employment opportunities for our residents.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Payne: Violent crime in the Territory is fueled by the systemic failure of our educational system, frail economy, lack of skills training and lack of prevention and intervention youth programs. Government, nonprofit organizations and residents need to work together to reinstitute after school programs that include homework assistance, music and arts, and recreational activities for elementary and middle school students. Mentoring, skills training, adult education and employment opportunities for our high schoolers and high school drop outs need to be implemented. The re-establishment of the Youth Commission would assist with ensuring programs listed along with others will be housed in one Agency and be easily accessible. This will reduce scheduling conflicts; competing for resources and personnel; and a means to evaluate and adjust. Also, our Police Department must partner with our federal partners to STOP the influx of illegal guns into our territory. Lastly, the government and private businesses need to develop approaches to assist with raising the poverty level of the Territory’s low-income families.
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?
Payne: Understanding that climate change is a growing threat in the Virgin Islands, VITEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Division saw the need to partner with UVI for the Hazard Mitigation Resiliency Plan, which focuses on many threats to the territory but has focused primarily on Climate change. Under this effort, the goal is to create Public support for Recovery and Risk reduction Initiatives while incorporating a vision of development in the territory for Risk Reduction, Resilience, and sustainability. The Implications determined by the study would be for the communities, infrastructure, and drought mitigation. Strengthening the community would allow more significant water and energy security and robust, redundant systems in households. The strengthening of the infrastructure would enable and integrate the climate impact into civil infrastructure design while using adaptive designs to minimize future costs. The adjustment of coastal land development laws and regulations would also be a determining factor in this progression. Lastly, for Drought mitigation, aid for all VI farmers and more specific work with farmers and the government on crop and water management would assist with the need for drought declarations. The USVI is a part of the USVI Drought Monitor network has and will continue to assist in this mitigated effort.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Payne: I would humbly like the opportunity to continue to serve the people of the territory as the At Large Senator as there is much more work to be done. We are in a state of rebuilding and I feel that I have the skillset, the tenacity and the work ethics to work with all stakeholders to ameliorate the quality of life for all of the residents across our beautiful territory. I am Steven Payne Sr. #1 on the ballot for Senator At Large.