In her annual address Tuesday, Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen reviewed her 1999 accomplishments, outlined an ambitious agenda for the coming year and, almost as an afterthought, threw her hat in the ring for a third term.
"Yes, I am running for another term," said Christensen, after plotting out a range of initiatives aimed at bringing in more than $500 million in federal funding over the next five years.
"By our calculation, and we are still counting, in fiscal year 1999 more than $150 million came to the territory," Christensen said. "The package for fiscal year 2001 and beyond, which we propose, would add up to $500 million or more, hopefully over a period not to exceed five years."
And while Christensen said she doesnt know who may run against her for delegate, the fate of her future funding proposals will likely hinge on who wins the presidency this November. Christensen, who supports Vice President Al Gore, said that a Democratic victory will help her efforts. A Republican win, however, wouldnt bode well for the territory, she said.
"Past history with Republican administrations would indicate they wouldnt be the best for the territory," Christensen said. "Either Democrat (Gore or Sen. Bill Bradley) would be OK."
Meanwhile, Christensen said her main goals for the coming year include, among others:
– Assisting Gov. Charles Turnbulls efforts in having the Federal Emergency Management Agency forgive the territorys $200 million debt.
– Requesting a reimbursement from the federal government on the $12 million the territory pays out each year for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
– Continuing work to have the federal government extend empowerment zone-economic community designation to the territory.
– Working with the Gasoline Excise Tax Commission to return taxes that may be due the territory.
– Seeking a special appropriation for money Medicaid owes territorial hospitals.
– Assisting the V.I. Port Authority in securing funds to complete the St. Croix runway extension and the Enighed Pond project on St. John.
As for 1999, Christensen pointed to successes in having the excise-tax cap on V.I. rum lifted. The move, retroactive to July 1999, extends to December 2001 and will bring an additional $30 million to $34 million to the territory, she said.
"While it is still not all we asked for, it does give us additional time to work toward having the entire cap lifted permanently," said Christensen.
Expanding duty-free benefits to manufacturers of jewelry, primarily on St. Croix, was another successful effort, Christensen reported. She said three new watch and jewelry manufacturers are preparing to open on the Big Island.
Christensen said that at the height of the watch industry a decade ago, between 1,000 and 1,200 people in the territory were working in the field. That number is down to 200 to 300. She said the number could double once the new companies start up.
Finally, Christensen, a doctor and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, noted her efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in the territory and win funding for the Childrens Health Insurance program. Beginning last October until 2002, the Virgin Islands will receive $900,000 a year to cover the needs of children whose parents cannot afford private health insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.