Immediate reaction to the governor's State of the Territory address Monday night was swift, to the point, and diverse. Comments ran the gamut from those who saw a lot of hope in his address, to those who saw none.
Bernice Turnbull, commissioner of finance, said the address gave her "hope." "He spoke in reality," she said, "I am looking forward to seeing the five-year plan." This is the governor's financial recovery task force's plan which, the governor said, will be revealed Feb. 29.
Sen. Gregory Bennerson was of another opinion. "I was disappointed in the tone of the address," he said. "The governor said things are better financially, but the facts and figures don't indicate that. I don't think he is facing reality." Bennerson also noted that it was the legislature, not the governor, who increased to $300 million the bonds issued last year. He said the legislature should be given credit. In general, Bennerson said he wasn't encouraged by the governor's assessment of the territory's status.
On another note, John de Jongh Jr., president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said that he found the governor's comments on the private sector "enough to work with." deJongh is chairman of the governor's five-year financial recovery plan.
Sen.George Goodwin said, "I'm not willing to say we are better off now than we were last year at this time." He said he would still question that. However, he was supportive of many financial measures the governor outlined.
He also suggested the territory listen to what is being done to lure tourism in the British Virgin Islands, which recently laid out an attractive tourism plan.
"He was more composed than last year," said Sen. Adlah "Fonsie" Donastorg, "but I am not too encouraged by what he said." "For instance," he continued, "he did not address what the interest rate on the bond issue would be." Donastorg also addressed the income tax refunds: "What about the 10 percent that's supposed to be set aside yearly for future refunds – was that held back out of the money we got for the current payments?" He also suggested the governor renegotiate some of the Industrial Development Commission's beneficiaries. He said some of them are in "total violation" of the IDC requirements.
Attorney Tom Bolt said, "what the governor said about private sector development has promise – but it's the following through that counts." He said the "private sector would be heartened by the governor's remarks."
Sen. Donald "Ducks"Cole said he thought the address had "no substance." He also wanted to know where the five-year financial plan is. Cole said he was very surprised the governor didn't mention the proposed employee retirement bill that he and Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd are working on.
All in all, the mood seemed tentative, as the legislators and government officials, alike, expressed a desire to believe the hope the governor expressed in the financial recovery possibilities for the V.I.
One thing everyone present did appear to agree on was the governor's opposition to the recent raises granted the GERS administration. His remark that the action was irresponsible brought the first audience reaction to his speech with a large round of applause.


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