By Mat Probasco
April 21 — Residents calling for St. Croix to break away from the rest
of the U.S. Virgin Islands wrote Washington on Thursday asking the U.S.
Department of Interior to investigate the territory's finances.
Members of the St. Croix Self Government Committee say the federal audit
will likely show the island generates more government revenue than it
receives in government spending _ and that a disproportionate amount of
money goes to St. Thomas and St. John.
"The disparity is obvious. The study will tell you how much money comes
from each district and where it is spent," said Rena Brodhurst, committee
president and publisher of The Avis newspaper of St. Croix.
The letter also asks the audit disclose which islands receive more
federally granted money.
More than 7,000 of St. Croix's 27,000 registered voters have signed a
petition asking Congress to make the island its own U.S. territory.
The Virgin Islands nonvoting delegate to Congress, Donna M. Christensen,
said she signed the petition to call attention to the island's economic
needs but doubted it would succeed.
Gov. Charles Turnbull, however, has publicly condemned the idea of
separating the islands. Turnbull's office did not return telephone messages
seeking comment on this story.
St. Croix is home to the Western Hemisphere's second largest oil
refinery and the Cruzan Rum distillery but has unemployment of about 14
percent compared to 9 percent on the other two islands.
Brodhurst complained of crumbling infrastructure, frequent wastewater
plant failures and other problems she said had slowed economic development
on the island of 55,000 people.
"If the investigation were to prove the obvious disparity, we strongly
believe that the honorable members of Congress and our president would move
post haste to rectify the lack of true self-government," she said the letter
sent to David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for insular affairs in
Territorial senators said they are unsure how much money the government
has to spend and, though they oppose dividing the islands into two separate
U.S. territories, a federal audit of the islands finances would help
Senators Terrance Nelson, Usie Richards and Craig Barshinger signed the
letter, saying anything that helps give a clear picture of the territory's
finances is helpful.
"That is the only way we can asses our financial needs. The gathering of
financial data has been quite cumbersome and elusive," Nelson said.
Records detailing government debt, revenue and expenditure are hard to
come by, said Nelson and other Senators.
A lack of financial documentation has plagued gove
By Mat Probasco