April 21 — Residents calling for St. Croix to break away from the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands wrote to Washington on Thursday asking the U.S. Department of Interior to investigate the territory's finances.
Members of the St. Croix Self Government Committee said the federal audit would likely show the island generates more government revenue than it spends, 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 that 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. Delegate Donna M. Christensen said she signed the petition to call attention to the island's economic needs but doubted it would succeed. (See "Delegate Signs Petition Calling for St. Croix to Secede").
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull 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 the island 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 in the letter sent to David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for insular affairs in Washington.
V.I. 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 immensely.
Senators Terrance "Positive" 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 assess 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 government offices.
More than $1 billion in debt, the V.I. Government has had difficulty balancing budgets and funding programs in recent years.
The territory passed a $590 million balanced budget for 2005 but failed to pass a budget the two previous years, which by law gave Turnbull discretion to spend government money as he saw fit.
A Christensen-penned bill before the U.S. Senate would give a federally appointed financial officer oversight of all U.S. Virgin Island government spending, a measure she said was needed to combat mismanagement of public money that was hurling the territory toward financial collapse.
Brodhurst and other committee members met with Department of Interior officials in Washington in February, as well as congressional delegates from American Samoa and Guam.
During the Washington visits, Congressional resources committee staff suggested an audit of the U.S. Virgin Islands finances would give a clear picture of the territory's finances, illuminating any disparity.
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