Home Commentary Open forum DONASTORG RESPONDS TO SOURCE SENATE FORUM

DONASTORG RESPONDS TO SOURCE SENATE FORUM

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1. How important is a comprehensive land and water use plan, and why has the territory been unable in more than 20 years of effort to enact one? What will it take to change this, and what, if anything, will you do bring about such change?
I have long said that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. A land and water use plan is essential as on St. Thomas, in particular, we are experiencing zoning controversies, loss of beach access and a serious decline of our quality of life as a result of uncontrolled growth. Many people with money and large tracts of property have worked for years to actively block the adoption of any kind of plan, however, I believe the vast majority of citizens now see the need to implement a comprehensive land and water use plan and will support such a proposal. The plan is presently being held up by a member of the 24th Legislature's Majority and, as a result, no action can presently be taken. I will move to reintroduce the existing plan in the 25th Legislature and to seek the support of community groups and individuals in order to help secure its passage.
2. How important is private and public sector partnering, and how can such partnering best be accomplished in order to be most effective in addressing economic and social problems in the territory?
Public and private sector partnerships are an important and under utilized tool here in the Virgin Islands. I think that the biggest obstacle may be a bureaucratic fear of relinquishing any power or funding. The bottom line is that private sector organizations and businesses have information, technology and experience that the entire community can benefit from. I'd like to see the private sector brought in to help resolve many issues related to tourism, environmental protection, education and social progress.

3. What are the biggest problems in the public education system, and what will it take to solve them? What will you do toward getting them solved?

There is a huge morale problem in the Department of Education that no one wants to talk about. Underpaid teachers, poorly utilized administrators and a mismanagement of funds and supplies have left most everyone quite frustrated and dissatisfied. This translates into problems for our students. We must immediately raise teacher salaries and restructure the Department to ensure better use of staff and monies. Additionally, some performance based bonuses or incentives must be offered to educators as well as new opportunities for training and higher education. The lack of site-based management is also an ongoing problem and this must be resolved in order to secure accreditation for our schools. Again, this is a problem that can be resolved by making some very basic changes within the Department.
4. How do you feel about floating future bonds to finance government initiatives, given the territory's present bond indebtedness of more than $1 billion? What will you do to persuade others of your views?
We may have already done enough damage by floating bonds, especially given that our interest rates are not the best available on the market. We should avoid floating any more bonds and focus on revenue producing initiatives, many of which I have outlined in recent weeks. I think the best way to persuade others of my views is to give them the hard numbers and to drive home the point that we have already mortgaged our children's futures.
5. What is the most viable solution to the territory's solid-waste disposal problems? What will you do to advance the implementation of this solution?
For many years I spearheaded efforts to resolve our solid waste problems and I was successful in getting the fires managed, some basic safety measures implemented as well as bringing our critical waste disposal problems to the forefront. I think the first step is to remove the ring of corruption from around solid waste management – it has become apparent that there are people in the Virgin Islands that don't want this problem to be resolved – unless it is to be resolved by the company of their choosing. I advocate an approach that includes first reducing the waste stream as much as possible through education and regulations, then recycling and composting wherever possible and finally establishing a safe, clean facility to landfill what remains. I am hopeful that a new legislature will help move this forward as the current Majority is extremely anti-environment and has failed to recognize the importance of these issues. I am prepared to work with the members of the 25th Legislature to see these problems resolved once and for all.
6. What is the most viable solution to the territory's sewage disposal problems? What will you do to advance the implementation of this solution?
This Government must cease and desist in polluting our own waters. For years I have been saying that clean air and clean water are basic human rights and it is this Government's primary job to ensure that we live in a healthy and safe environment. The V.I. Government must spend the money on upgrading and maintaining our plants and acquire the training needed for plant workers. We also must continue to work with the Eastern Caribbean Center and other organizations that are researching alternative methods of sewage treatment and disposal. Sewage treatment is difficult, but by no means, impossible, and there is no valid reason for our ongoing problems.
7. How do you assess the economy of the Virgin Islands at this time, and what do you see as its best hope for growth? What will you do to foster that growth?
The Virgin Islands economy is not as bad as many say it is, however, government funds are continually mismanaged and regressive taxes (such as the 4 percent gross receipts tax) make it very difficult for small businesses to succeed. I see our best hope for growth in adapting new and creative strategies. For example, we have become the top cruise ship destination while our hotels and restaurants suffer from lack of business. We must offer incentives to bring those cruise ship passengers back as overnight visitors and we must work harder to get more out of the cruise ship industry as it has gotten a lot out of the Virgin Islands. The Economic Development Commission must be entirely restructured in order to assist new, small businesses to get off the ground. It is unconscionable that our largest industries and, even monopolies, continue to operate tax free, while the smaller, local and family-owned businesses are being crushed by a huge tax burden. And if we are to protect our tourism based economy and our quality of life we must be more aggressive in protecting our beautiful environment and cultural resources. Eco tourism is the fastest growing sector of the industry, yet the Virgin Islands Government is pushing for the development of new mega resorts as opposed to creating important tourist attractions such as parks or restoring historic buildings and sites. This kind of thinking is outdated and brings absolutely nothing to the table in the long term. We must look to sustainable growth and development if we are to truly improve our economic picture over the long haul.
8. How pervasive is corruption within the local government, and how should this problem, if you consider it to be a problem, best be addressed?
Very. Exposing and eliminating corruption has been the cornerstone of my political career. I think it would help to give the Inspector General's Office more funding and autonomy to audit and investigate various agencies and programs. I have also long supported establishing the Attorney General as an elected, rather than appointed, office in order to ensure that law enforcement is not unduly influenced by the current Administration. An elected AG would have much more power to enforce existing laws, weed out questionable contracts and keep Government officials in check.

9. What is the most viable solution to Government Employees Retirement System payouts exceeding revenues, and what w
ill you do to advance the implementation of this solution?

Government officials created a situation where the pensions of innocent Government employees are at risk and leaders must seek creative solutions to handle this problem. First, productive Government employees that reach retirement age should be offered incentives to stay on in order to reduce the numbers of people filing for benefits. These experienced employees are needed, particularly in troubled agencies such at the Department of Education. Next, the Government must look for a new source of revenue dedicated towards making up for the GERS shortfall. Government employees must not be made to pay the price for mistakes made by the officials they elect, however, they should keep these mistakes in mind on Election Day.

10. What is the most viable solution to government spending exceeding revenues, and what will you do to advance the implementation of this solution?
The most viable solution is to cut spending and to increase revenues. I have proposed significant cuts, such as the 25 percent reduction the Legislature's budget to accompany the reduction in the number of senators. If my legislation had been approved by my colleagues we would have saved as much nearly $9 million this year! Additionally, as I stated above, the cruise ship industry and other big businesses have yet to make their fare share of contributions to this community. By making creative spending cuts and enhancing revenues through, for example, reforms at the EDC and the Port Authority, we can easily balance our budget. I will continue to push for such creative solutions and the elimination of waste and corruption.

11. How do alignments between majority and minority blocs in the Legislature and adversarial relationships between the legislative and executive branches of government serve the best interests of the people of the Virgin Islands?
Our democratic system allows for a certain level of adversarial action and, indeed, this "checks and balance" system helps to keep all branches of Government in line. However, here in the Virgin Islands we have taken this to the extreme and to the detriment of our entire community. We saw this in action in January of 2001 when the 24th Legislature Majority took office. In an effort to get all senators to line up behind them, the present Majority Block took away nearly all of the non-aligned senators' resources and worked to block my legislation and initiatives at every turn. We were elected by the public and deserve equal opportunity to perform our duties. The present Majority took this way too far, even blocking important, but innocuous, legislation such as my bill to increase penalties for animal cruelty and neglect. They took these actions, not in the best interest of the community, but in order to punish me for not joining their Majority. This does not behoove us as a Legislature or a community.

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