In a State of the Territory address containing few surprises, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said the territory was not as bad off as it was a year ago, but that the key to real economy recovery lay in a partnership with the private sector.
Welcoming new investments and "growing" the private sector was a recurring theme of his Monday evening speech in the Senate chamber.
"Growing the private sector is crucial as we work to reduce public workers in an organized manner," the governor said.
Among the few surprises in the governor's address was his commitment to pursue the return of federal gasoline excise taxes, not a new idea but one that has not been spoken about recently. It took Congressional Delegate Donna Christian-Christiansen off guard. The delegate, who would be the point person on achieving that goal in Washington, repeated what she has said before – that while the idea of the return of gasoline excise tax enjoys popular support the road to achieving it is riddled with "potholes."
Christiansen said she had not expected the governor to bring up the gasoline excise tax issue in his speech. "It seems like an easy way to address a severe" financial crisis, she said.
Another surprise was Turnbull's discussion of privatization of the V.I. Lottery, along with bus transportation, school maintenance, central motor pool operations, government printing, food service programs and garbage collection.
With the current mood in the senate regarding privatization, the governor could expect support from legislators. Part of the Omnibus Act suggested that the executive branch look at privatization of certain government operations to achieve government reform.
Turnbull also said the government was continuing to evaluate Southern Energy's proposal to acquire a majority interest in WAPA.
He said if there was sufficient belief that restructuring could provide better service at lower rates, adequate protection of existing WAPA employees, and a greater return on its investment the government was obligated to consider the deal.
Turnbull's support of privatization of WAPA – in direct opposition to his campaign promises – could put him in conflict with some labor unions who oppose it.
Turnbull said he had received a final "no" from Beal Aerospace to his request Beal reconsider its decision to abandon its rocket assembly operation on St. Croix.
"Their decision to go elsewhere, in the face of narrowly-based opposition, should be a lesson to us all," he said.
Turnbull said that while the government has a moral obligation to address retroactive monies owed to government workers the fiscal reality was that it was unlikely the government would ever be in a position to pay the $200 million owed to workers.
Rudolph Krigger, special advisor to the governor on financial matters, agreed, saying after the speech he couldn't foresee "anyone in their right mind" thinking the government could pay all the retroactive.
Even the step increases, Krigger said, would make it difficult to meet the bi-weekly payroll. Krigger admitted the government must be downsized. "Without that we're just spinning our wheels."
Turnbull said he was committed, however, to working with labor to find a compromise solution that would include step increases. But he added any plan would have to include a way to fund it.
Another surprise, according to acting Tourism Commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge, was the governor's commitment of $1.5 million from the general fund to subsidize a summer tourism campaign for the territory. Turnbull said the amount would be matched by private sector organizations.
Management and Budget Director Ira Mills said "Yes, I do think we are better off now than we were last year,"
Mills said he thinks that the individual government departments are becoming more aware that they have to take the responsibility for controlling their finances.
He said he thought the governor addressed all divisions of government; that he was "all inclusive" in his remarks. Also, Mills said he was pleased that the governor addressed the importance of the private sector.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here