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PROPOSED ‘SIN TAXES’ GET COOL GREETING

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May 30, 2001 – While the intention of a proposed "sin tax" bill now making its way through the Senate is commendable, a St. Croix business leader says it's ill-advised.
The so-called Teacher Recruitment and Training Act of 2001, sponsored by Education Committee Chairman Norman Jn Baptiste, would give scholarships to University of the Virgin Islands students who commit to teaching in local public schools for at least four years. The scholarships would be funded by a 3 percent tax on luxury cars that cost more than $25,000, a 35-cent charge per cigarette pack, and a 5 percent tax on guns and ammunition brought into the territory.
Jn Baptiste told a radio talk show over the weekend that he would also like to see an increase on liquor taxes. "It’s going to a worthy cause," he said.
Carmelo Rivera, president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, agreed that Jn Baptiste’s cause is noble but said new taxes are not the way to go. That is consistent with the position the islands' business groups have taken in recent years whenever senators have proposed "sin taxes" on such items as cigarettes, alcoholic beverages or expensive cars.
The bill "feels good," Rivera said. "Most people will eat the rhetorical bait. I . . . don’t think this is the kind of legislation that should be contemplated with the current economy."
Instead, Rivera said the Legislature should focus on improving the economy. The St. Croix Chamber, along with its counterpart on St. Thomas and St. John, and the territory’s hotel and tourism associations want the government to focus on establishing a tourism authority, implement tax reform and address insurance issues.
"The last thing we need is another disincentive to do business in the Virgin Islands," Rivera said.
The bill was approved by the Education Committee last week and will next be heard by the Senate Rules Committee where Jn Baptiste said it could very likely be amended.

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