Nov. 25, 2005 The days of a paternalistic federal government are over, but the Virgin Islands has failed to respond to the shift, Washington, D.C. lobbyist and businessman Tom Campbell told the Rotary Club of St. John Friday.
"We moved from a limited relationship with the federal government to none at all," he told the more than two dozen people who gathered at the Westin Resort and Villas for the meeting.
Campbell, who lives much of the year at Great Cruz Bay, said the financial situation will get even tighter as an aging population costs the federal government more and more money.
He said that in 1970, 15 percent of the federal budget went to entitlement programs like Social Security. Today, he said the government spends two-thirds of its budget on such programs.
Campbell said that the territory should act now to get its share of federal funds before the situation gets worse.
"Entitlement programs will swamp everything else," he said.
He said this will force the government to borrow money to fund itself.
However, St. Thomas attorney Derek Hodge, who has served in the Legislature and as lieutenant governor, pointed out that the territory faces caps on some entitlement programs.
Campbell said that a public/private partnership is the answer to this situation. He said, however, that it must have a goal such as improving the standard of living for all its residents.
He said that there are millions of dollars available to the territory in entitlement programs that go untapped, but he said it will take high-paid professional grant writers to get that money.
"If you pay $500,000, a bad one will get you $5 million," he said, inferring that a good grant writer will get even more.
He said that if that money flowed into the Virgin Islands, it would help improve the economy.
Campbell also called on the territory to centralize services for low-income people because many do not have cars. Furthermore, he said the government needs to hire people who can help those who don't understand what they're entitled to receive.
"Folks who are not literate cannot get their entitlements," he said, suggesting that the local government hire retirees from the mainland who have expertise in entitlement programs to help out on a contract basis.
Campbell said that federal statistics show the Virgin Islands is first in the number of families living in poverty, first in its unemployment rate and first in the number of high school dropouts.
He said the territory comes last in the percentage of federal funds spent per capita, and last in the percentage of federal funds spent on things like roads.
Campbell said the local government should push the federal government to locate offices in the territory. He said such a move would bring good-paying jobs that come with benefits.
"It doesn't all have to be in Puerto Rico," he said.
He suggested that too often those in power say because it is the Virgin Islands, it can't be done. Campbell nixed that thought, saying that the Virgin Islands has many talented people.
"There's a tremendous talent base," he said. And he said that although people tell him the local Legislature is a "circus," he said it's the same situation across the mainland.
"In the Delaware legislature, there are a number of people who are not qualified to hold public office, but they hold it anyway, and then go on to be governor," he said, speaking about his native state.
Campbell also noted that without infrastructure improvements such as better telephone service, it will not be possible to attract companies to the territory.
He said he cannot locate his software company, Compressus Inc., in the territory because he can't get adequate phone lines. He said business owners like himself do not find this "amusing."
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