Home Commentary Op-ed A GIFT NOT GIVEN TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

A GIFT NOT GIVEN TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

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The headline on today's paper is simply shocking. The level of greed and avarice exemplified by our elected senators, governor and lieutenant governor is unconscionable. The Virgin Islands have the highest murder rate in the United States, the highest percentage of unaccredited schools, the highest level of childhood poverty, and a per person debt burden beyond that of any state. With all states looking to cutback expenses and slash budgets, due to the recessions we are now mired in, with all states suffering declining revenues, the Legislators and Governor choose to reward themselves with raises of more than 30 percent and 69 percent, respectively.
Last week, the Finance Commissioner announced that the Territory is suffering from the worst cash flow crisis in its history, and this week the Governor and Legislature give themselves unprecedented raises. The hospitals, already underfunded, have been instructed to cut their spending to reflect the inability of the Government to pay the funds which have been approved as part of the budget.
Now in response to our poor government performance, the Legislature and the Governor present themselves with this gift. A gift from your pockets to theirs, without your consent.
As the Legislature now is paid more than any state except California, let's use California for a comparison. California has 120 legislators (80 assemblymen and 40 senators). As reported, these legislators are paid $99,000 per year.
…………………….Virgin Islands …………………California
Legislators ………….15 ……………………………120
Population ………..108,612 …………………….33,871,648
Residents per
Legislator ………….. 7,240.80 …………….282,263.73
Legislators salary … $85,000 ………….. $99,000
Total cost of Legislative
Salaries …..$1,275,000 …………………….$11,880,000
Cost per citizen…. $ 11.74 ………………… $ 0.35
Residents of the Virgin Islands spend 33 times as much, per person, for our legislators' salaries. We are not getting our money's worth.
Every California legislator is expected to serve nearly 40 times as many citizens as a Virgin Islands legislator, but receives only 16 percent more in salary.
I have been repeatedly told (mostly by government staff) that the Virgin Islands legislators and commissioners deserve to be paid more than their mainland counterparts, because they have to serve as the functional equivalent of the state, county and city governments. Again, since only California is higher paid, let''s add in San Francisco.
San Francisco has a consolidated City and County structure, governed by a board of supervisors which has 11 members. The supervisors are paid $37,858 per year. San Francisco has a population of about 800,000, and an annual budget of more than $6 billion dollars (about 10 times the size of the Virgin Islands budget). The cost of San Francisco supervisors salaries is $416,438, or just over $0.50 per resident of San Francisco. Even when added to the California state legislators, the cost is under $1.00 per citizen per year. Note that even though San Francisco has a budget ten times as large as ours, and a population eight times larger, its supervisors cost less than 1/3 of what the citizens of the Virgin Islands pay. Also note that the supervisors do not get even a car allowance or free parking, but are advised to take public transportation, in contrast to the two very expensive vehicles per senator which the legislature has given itself this year. Instead of a government existing to serve its citizens, it appears that we have reversed the situation. We appear to have a government solely to benefit those who are able to extract large salaries, regardless of performance.

Editor's note: Attorney Boyd L. Sprehn was the former chief prosecutor on public corruption in the Virgin Islands until leaving that position in February 2001. He is now with the law firm of Watts & Benham

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