A competition to select dancers to perform at the 165th Emancipation Celebration on St. Croix will be held. The…
On Thursday, April 25, the St. Thomas community was enjoying J'Ouvert when the celebration was shattered by gunshots which injured three people. Public safety officials immediately canceled the remainder of J'Ouvert.
In January 2007, two months following the General Election of November 2006, Governor John deJongh delivered his State of the Territory message to the 27th Legislature. During his presentation, he pledged to pay some $400 million dollars in back pay that spanned a period of 20 years. Because I have been a foe of the back-pay issue as far back as the Schneider administration when the amount 'owed' was published at $100 million dollars, it seemed that what I said of the back-pay issue then only needed different names to update what I would say following Governor deJongh's 2007 pledge to the listening and viewing public. I was convinced then that his resurrection of the back-pay issue was purely a political ploy and I said so whenever I had an opportunity to do so. I also said that the 2007 pledge was the beginning of the 2010 re-election campaign. I asked publicly for a citation from anyone who could provide one that identified a single jurisdiction worldwide where public officials were wrestling with a 20 year old back-pay issue. Of course there were no responses to that challenge. We must now add four more years to the count.
During the incumbency of the Chief Negotiator for collective bargaining, now a Superior Court of the Virgin Islands Magistrate Judge, she is quoted as saying in effect that the government does not have to pay the claim for back-pay. This writer can also recollect a similar statement by the late Chief Judge Almeric Christian of the District Court of the Virgin Islands many years before the chief negotiator's public statement on the same matter.
Last month while delivering his State of the Territory message before the 28th Legislature, the Governor stated words to the effect that while there are those who state there is no legal requirement to pay, he intends to pay on moral grounds. From this writer's perspective, the moral issue should apply in both directions. The Virgin Islands Government had the option, like so many other governments nationwide to engage in employee or staff reduction practices by sending employees home due to deteriorating financial conditions, but our government chose not to do so. While our employees were retained, oftentimes they were without the necessary materials, supplies, equipment, tools and parts to perform their respective duties properly. But, they were retained and a valid public purpose was served by keeping employees on the payroll for any number of very obvious reasons. The entire Virgin Islands contributed to achieving this public purpose by tolerating diminished quantity and quality of public services.
Additionally, this politically-driven pledge to dispense hundreds of millions of dollars for one segment of our government while many other individuals who constitute the larger government, have no back-pay check to receive. Consider, if you will, the workers on main street, those in the malls and those working in the pharmacies, hardware stores and fast-food places of business. Any burden felt by not receiving back-pay should be considered addressed by the benevolence of a caring, larger community as expressed through the acceptance of diminished services in the interest of avoiding mass lay-offs of government employees. There is ample room for thanks on both sides of the moral issue.
In the language of the old Finance Department, this writer wonders about the propriety of disbursing hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds on moral, rather than, legal grounds. Can the legislature go back retroactively and create a liability for the government on the back pay issue where none existed previously? Whose moral suasion controls? After dabbling in this age-old back pay issue, how do we propose to address distributions to the estates of deceased former government employees without being the source of undue and undesirable stress within bereaved families?
Specifically, this writer suggests that the 28th Legislature declare the back-pay issue to be off the table and beyond the exploitation and reach of our politicians.
Gaylord A. Sprauve