Home News Local news Residents, Former Senator Decry Government Pay Raises

Residents, Former Senator Decry Government Pay Raises


Dec. 30, 2006 — "The governor, with the help of the Legislature, has pulled the equivalent of a midnight massacre on the people," writes former V.I. Sen. Eric Dawson in response to media reports about the Senate's decision to approve new pay raises for the governor, lieutenant governor and senators.
Over the past few days, local news outlets have been inundated with similar letters and calls from community members protesting the raises. They nearly double the governor's salary to $150,000, up from $80,000 a year. The salary of the territory's lieutenant governor will also get bumped up to $125,000 a year from $75,000.
The increases place the territory's governor and lieutenant governor among the nation's highest-paid officials, with salaries close to that of governors in states such as New York, California and Michigan.
Many residents have said they are particularly opposed to the fact that Turnbull, along with Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, will receive a portion of the increase, which has been made retroactive to Oct. 1. 2006.
Sources have also commented on the fact that Turnbull's retirement benefits will increase by a certain percentage, reflecting the $150,000 salary. The Source was unable to determine how much the increase will be despite calling numerous government officials.
Several residents have emailed the Source protesting the $20,000 pay increase for senators, which will only take effect after the Legislature changes hands next month.
According to a salary survey conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the pay raises make the territory's Legislature the third-highest paid in the nation, coming in below California (where senators make $110,800 a year) and the District of Columbia (where senators make $92,500).
"… Hiking legislators' salaries from $65,000 to $85,000 is not justified," Dawson said in an email written from Viera, Fla. "A $5000 raise would have been more reasonable. What more will Virgin Islands legislators do next session that they have not done? Will there be a higher quality of legislation? How will the people benefit?"
Other emails sent to the Source characterize the raises as "outrageous" and "shameful."
"The former governor … and the 26th so-called Legislature have proven to be even more despicable that even the most critical of us have stated," writes Paul Devine, a St. John resident. "This latest 11th-hour pay raise and the benefits they will accrue will be a lasting testimony to an era of mishandlings, greed, inability and corruption."
Residents made similar comments on the streets of St. Thomas, saying they prefer that the money go toward priorities such as education, health and economic development.
"What we need to is increase the minimum wage more, because the cost of living down here is very high," said Alston George, a St. Thomas resident. "Teachers, for example, should be given more money to take care of the schools and the students. Additionally, we should create more opportunities for residents, such as creating local hotels and developing a technical school where young people can go and get job training."
While salaries for the governor and senators have not increased in the past 15 years, George said, more emphasis should be placed on investing in the local economy, which would in turn create more job opportunities for residents and generate more revenue for the government.
Other residents said they would adopt a "wait-and-see" attitude — opting to see whether the government's productivity improves after the raises have been in effect for six months.
"Let's see what they're going to do," said Bruce Flamon, a certified taxi driver. "If things get better, then the raise is justified. But if nothing improves, then the people should have the ability to take the raise away."
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