Home Commentary Open forum DE JONGH / ARNOLD RESPOND TO FORUM



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 to bring about such change?
I support the adoption of a Land and Water Use Plan that will address, among other items, the issue of spot zoning on all Virgin Islands and the planned development or non-development of our limited natural resources. Such a plan is long overdue, but in the past one was never able to gain the full support of the legislative or executive branches, or the general community, because of political machinations. It is my intention to garner enough bi-partisan support to finally make a Land and Water Use Plan a reality. A comprehensive plan would be developed with the assistance of experts in this highly specialized field, input from all sectors of the community and all islands, and the government agencies responsible for the implementation and enforcement of its provisions. This will not be an easy task and one that will not be accomplished immediately. Until the Land and Water Use Plan is a reality, as Governor, I will direct the Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to only recommend zoning changes that are consistent with the surrounding areas and structures. I will also veto zoning measures passed by the Legislature that are inconsistent with this policy.
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?
In order for Virgin Islanders to have real economic opportunity, there must be a vibrant and expanding private sector economy, comprised of both large and small businesses. The role of government is to be a facilitator, not a hindrance, to the creation and nurturing of the economy. I firmly believe in the importance of private and public partnering, especially in the guidance and enhancement of the tourism "product" of the Virgin Islands, and utilizing the Economic Development Authority to create and sustain small business opportunities. The deJongh/Arnold Administration will push for the establishment of a Tourism Authority comprised of board members from both the public and private sector. With tourism generating approximately $1 billion a year for our economy, this vital sector must be given the utmost priority and managed with the input of all who have a vested interest in its development. I originally led the group that drafted the legislation establishing a Tourism Authority, which was passed by the 23rd Legislature in December of 2000, but vetoed by the current Governor. I also led the negotiations of a private-public task force with the cruise lines, and ultimately drafted, the Cruise Ship Long Term Operating Agreement also passed by the 23rd Legislature, but never properly implemented by the current Administration. Although not put to good use, these two initiatives are prime examples of my commitment to private-public partnering and the potential strength of public-private partnering in terms of expanding the economy. I also was chairman of the Economic Recovery Task Force which produced the Five-Year Strategic Financial Plan, and included various private-public initiatives for stimulating economic growth.
Likewise, government should partner with non-government organizations to provide needed social services to the community. As Governor, I will institute a coordinated and collaborative initiative with private not-for-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations to access federal and private grant money for a variety of human service programs. For instance I will push for the development of a comprehensive, coordinated system, in conjunction with private organizations, to provide appropriate follow-up services to people living with mental illness and substance abuse. In order for the Virgin Islands to develop into a caring, forward-thinking community, the strengths and assets of all components of the community, whether they be public or private, must be utilized.
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?
Our education system suffers from two basic problems: the lack of standards and the lack of accountability. Both problems can be fixed with real leadership. Our specific problems are the following:
1. Dysfunctional organization system that maintains a centralized management structure, which cannot respond in a two-district school system.
2. Adherence to a general Government apparatus that is unresponsive and fails to give priority to the delivery of education.
3. A funding approach and financing plans that are erratic in meeting the daily operating needs of the schools (inclusive of supplies, tools and pay) and the capital infrastructure requirements of physical plants that are deteriorating and out-of-date.
4. A pay scale that cannot attract or retain teachers over a consistent period of time.
5. The lingering and past-due obligations and the lack of a plan to liquidate this obligation.
6. Low teacher morale.
7. A structure that does not encourage parental involvement and responsibility in the core education program and after-school programs.
8. A system that needs to re-evaluate its mission and its commitment to the students and parents of our community.
9. Not necessarily a problem, but a near-term challenge, is adherence to the No Child Left Behind Act.
We need to put our students first. The educational system exists to serve students, which is done by providing the best education possible. Paul Arnold and I will lead the charge as we focus our will and collective energies to find a way to send the message throughout the territory that education is the single area where we cannot stint, were we must not fail, where we must do our absolute best. Our future depends on it.
We will reallocate the line responsibilities within the administration to make sure that the chain of command is clear. The Commissioner of Education will be responsible for formulating policy, dealing with Washington, D.C., and overseeing the two Assistant Commissioners/Superintendents. The primary responsibility for administering each school will rest with the principal of that school who would have the authority to site-manage the facility with all that term implies. Critical to the school's administration will be the empowerment of parents to ensure follow through on their decision and actions of the school administration.
Funds will be identified to provide the resources to attract and retain teachers. Rewards for meritorious performance must become available to teachers and administrators who excel. While the financial resources to fund a portion of these initiatives will arise from efficiency improvements, we must push for aggressive private sector growth. The expansion of the private sector will generate the financial resources to establish/maintain a competitive pay scale and ensure that the retroactive obligations can be paid based on a multi-year plan. Undertaking tax reform is a key component of achieving private sector growth. Continuing education in subject competence must be encouraged and rewarded. We must become a community that reveres achievement in education, as must as we revere success in sports, business, politics or any other profession.
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?
The Government of the Virgin Islands, through the V.I. Public Finance Authority, has approximately $800.0 million of bonded debt. With the inclusion of the V.I. Port Authority, V.I. Water and Power Authority, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, the aggregate bonded debt is close to or exceeds $1
.0 billion. I do not believe that we will be able to avoid the issuance of additional bonded debt in the future, especially given some critical capital expenditure needs, e.g. solid waste, wastewater, sewage, housing, water and power. However, a de Jongh/Arnold Administration will change the manner in which bonded monies are determined to be required and ultimately used. The issuance of bonded debt will only be issued in the case of capital projects and not to meet annual operating expenditures. To the extent possible, the repayment of bonded debt should be tied to a specific revenue stream, with the pledge of a general obligation of the people of the Virgin Islands (the General Fund) a secondary source of repayment, thereby ensuring the per capita debt can be reduced over time. Additionally, bonded debt issuance must only be one component of a comprehensive working plan of the funding requirements of the government and its semi-autonomous instrumentalities. The bonded debt per capita of the government has increased by 29 percent in year 2000 to $8,388, and if the bonded debts of the semi-autonomous instrumentalities are included, this number increases to over $9,000. This is among the highest of any state, municipality or territory. A component of the de Jongh/Arnold Administration will be to evaluate early payment of certain bonds based on call features and refinancing/defeasance of bonds based on lower interest rates in order to reduce the annual debt service burden and free-up the resources for essential services or projects.
The de Jongh/Arnold Administration will persuade others of our approach based on openness of the financial records, transparency in the numbers and involvement in the process.
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?
The deJongh/Arnold Administration will support the concepts of composting and recycling of appropriate materials, as well as high tech, environmentally friendly waste-to-energy facilities. However, we fully recognize that no new solutions to the territory's solid waste problems can be pursued until new or converted sites for the collection and disposal of municipal waste are developed. These sites are essential infrastructure elements what make all other solutions possible.
On St. Croix, after an open public process requesting proposals, negotiations will commence immediately with private landowners and developers, with considerations given for design-build, full service, contracts for a facility within the industrial mega-plex or on the island's west end. Gone will be the smoke and fire menace that has plagued central and western St. Croix for 25 years.
St. Thomas is more challenging and available land is a premium. The present dump must be converted to a modernized site for the collection and disposal of municipal solid wastes. Additionally, a full service, high tech volume reduction solution must be quickly implemented. This action will provide relief to those residents of Bovoni and Bolongo whose health and quality of life are jeopardized on a daily basis.
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?
Recognizing that many of today's sewage issues relate directly to age and original installation problems, especially on St. Croix, the deJongh/Arnold Administration will give the highest priority to the repair and replacement of the 35 plus year old sewage system that is at or very near the end of its useful life. Special attention will be given to insuring that the transmission infrastructure is appropriate for the highly corrosive soils of the Virgin Islands and that upgrades to all treatment plants and ocean discharge will meet all Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) deadlines. Additionally, the sewage treatment lagoon at the St. Thomas airport, with its attendant noxious odors affecting both health and image at the territory's gateway, must be replaced with a certified sewage treatment facility. The days of discharging three million or more gallons a day of raw or partially treated waste into our offshore waters must stop. Plans for this treatment facility have been available for more than 20 years – what has been lacking is the political will to get it done. An aggressive coordinated campaign seeking federal assistance for this effort will be initiated immediately upon taking office.
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 economy of the Virgin Islands cannot be assessed as a single unit but evaluated by the individual economies of each island and its contribution to the whole. St. Croix is essentially light industry, which has seen its growth stagnated over the last several years, with major employment sourced from HOVENSA, some government, and most recently the influx of financial service companies, through the Economic Development Commission, has increased residential and commercial real estate activity. The tourism industry has been on a downward path, with the loss of the cruise ship traffic in 2002 a major blow. Agriculture has the potential to be an import-substitution business in certain areas as long as government policy of investment is developed and implemented. St. Thomas is primarily tourism driven, resulting in the construction activity, and a governmental apparatus that is primarily domiciled on this island. Financial services have increased thereby diversifying employment and generating both residential and commercial real estate activity. The marine/charter yacht industry can be recaptured as we expand our docking options. St. John has enjoyed growth from a tourism standpoint over the last several years and increasing residential real estate activity in the residential area for investors and second-home properties. Water Island has maintained its residential focus, with its commercial potential not yet realized. In the aggregate, the assets exist for the Virgin Islands to realize tremendous growth once the strategic decision is made to coordinate development activities and economic opportunities. We cannot lose sight that as of July 2002, the unemployment rate in the district of St. Croix was 11 percent, in the district of St. Thomas-St. John over 9 percent, and that 33 percent of our children in the Virgin Islands live below the poverty line.
The creation of an independent tourism entity that will market the Virgin Islands, generally, and the creation of specific brand identification for each location is a key requirement to attain some level of coordinated growth in the tourism area. This entity will also address the attraction of a brand-name hotel to the island of St. Croix, start the work on a hotel/resort complex on Water Island and expand hotel capacity overall, with a focus on quality and product diversity. The attraction of the hotel rooms will, in turn, lead to serious discussions with airlines and charter companies for the destination and uniqueness that is offered by the brand offering of the different islands, thereby ensuring the Virgin Islands becomes competitive once again.
A de Jongh/Arnold Administration will change the focus of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to create and sustain small business opportunities and begin a more targeted marketing focus for light industry and financial services, especially in the captive insurance area. In financial services, gain has been achieved in the absence of any policy development or aggressive targeted marketing by the government – whoever submits an application has had it processed. Our Administration will target specific firms with a concentration on diversifying our position in the financial services arena to include more trading, back-office operations and advanced research. We will also develop a listing of potential firms in the light manufacturing area that can be attracted
to St. Croix building on the skill set and human capital that has existed and trained at HOVENSA and its subcontractors, V.I. Rum Industries, and the watch companies. We intend to work closely with the St. Croix Renaissance group on the development of their park as a key feature of our economic plan. Agriculture will also enjoy a different focus in a de Jongh/Arnold Administration will a heavy concentration on investment and development as vehicles for production and distribution that will ensure its economic success. Additionally, we will create economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs that will expand our business community and allow them to migrate from employees to owners. Tax reform is a critical component of this initiative as is a 'buy local' policy by the government and the establishment of a venture guaranty fund to supplement bank financing – approaches and policies that will be critical to the de Jongh/Arnold Administration.
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?
I do believe that corruption within the local government is a very serious problem. Corruption comes in many forms, such as "granting" a favor to a friend who is not prepared to meet all the requirements of a license or permit, to not charging someone with a crime because of their family connections, to awarding a contract to a crony solely for political purposes. All of them are wrong. Corruption must not be tolerated and it must stop at the top. The de Jongh/Arnold Administration will provide "transparency" to all Executive Branch operations and prosecute any employee found in violation of the law in the commission of the government's business. The rules and regulations of all government departments will be enforced and violators will be disciplined as allowed.
Corruption in government is another symptom of the community's laxity toward crime. We must re-instill within our citizens respect for the law, any law, as the benchmark for a civilized and courteous community. It will one of my priorities as Governor to bring back a level playing ground for every citizen of the community, regardless of race, creed, national origin or any other factor. Everyone must be treated fairly under the law, but laws must also be respected and enforced equally.
9. What is the most viable solution to Government Employees Retirement System payouts exceeding revenues, and what will you do to advance the implementation of this solution?
The Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) has seen its financial future put in jeopardy as its unfunded liability has increased from $519 million as of September 30, 1999, to an estimate of over $750 million in September of 2002. Additionally, each year for the past three years, invested assets of $25 million have been liquidated to meet operating needs. Compounding this scenario is the fact that past-due obligations from government agencies, departments and instrumentalities remain unpaid and unfunded mandates have been passed by the V.I. Legislature.
What is required, which John de Jongh assisted in developing and supported as a GERS trustee, and which the de Jongh/Arnold Administration will initiate, is retirement system reform that: develops a two-tier system, increases the contribution rates for the government, and develops a legislative approach that only legislation with identified funding will be passed and subject to implementation. The development of the two-tier plan will also include consideration of segregation of the retirement benefits by benefit class, e.g. hazardous employees, regular employees, health professionals, educators. The reform will also expand the investment options of the investment managers to increase yields but limit risks and exposure. This new two-tier system will maintain the retirement commitment of current employees but change to a lower payout for the new employees and allow for the differential to go towards closing the gap on the unfunded liability.
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 rests with the selection of the financial officers and adhering to financial management that is founded on the principle that "you don't spend what you don't have." A financial management system that is operated to provide real-time information is critical to successful management of governmental operations, as is the reporting and availability of the information to the public. There must also be consequences for waste, corruption and mismanagement of government resources, and we will continue to promote and support the work of the V.I. Inspector General. Access and transparency will be cornerstones of the de Jongh/Arnold Administration.
These operating foundations can only be successfully implemented based on selecting qualified individual for financial positions, with the knowledge and experience of governmental accounting and budgeting. Additionally, the de Jongh/Arnold Administration will develop a revenue budget policy that takes into account prior year collections in establishing revenue projections versus unrealistic revenue estimates that are based on expenditure levels. We will also work closely with the V.I. Legislature to develop a funding mechanism that mandates that legislation requiring expenditure be supported by an identified funding source.
11. How do alignments between majority and minority blocs in the
Legislature and adversarial relationships between the legislative and executive branches of government best serve the best interests of the people of the Virgin Islands?

The establishment of the majority-minority blocs within the Legislature and the interactive relationship with the Executive Branch results in a dynamic that serves in the best interests of the people of the Virgin Islands as it assures debate and counter-balancing positions. Historically, the relationships have been adversarial and counterproductive, which resulted primarily from the absence of leadership. An Executive Branch that is proactive and aggressive on its policies and inclusive of the Legislature will achieve forward movement, and, in turn, force the Legislature to focus on policies as opposed to getting involved in the operating affairs of the government. This dynamic will lead to the majority and minority blocs debating issues and ensuring that the wide range of options has been considered prior to legislation being enacted.


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