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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesDELEGATE: NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR GAS TAX PUSH

DELEGATE: NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR GAS TAX PUSH

Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen repeated her concern Tuesday night that the territory take a slow approach in lobbying for a return in gas taxes.
At her third town meeting in the territory while Congress is on its summer break, Christensen said that one of the first things she did when she went to Washington in 1997 was to meet with the White House on the gas tax issue.
"They listened and asked questions but no action was taken," she said. "What we do know is the White House isn’t supporting it and there is no support in Congress."
Based on the more than $680 million in total sales taxes collected on Virgin Islands gas in 1998, a 10 percent return to the V.I. translates into $68 million. A 20 percent return would bring in $136 million.
But Christensen is adamant that without support in Congress and the White House, chasing after the gas tax right now would be futile.
A more realistic goal, she said, is to focus on the full return of rum excise taxes. Currently, the territory receives approximately $50 million a year in rum taxes. If 100 percent of the tax is returned, the territory stands to receive approximately $60 million annually.
But Christensen said the full cover over on rum isn’t even a sure thing as it makes its way through House committees. Because of that, she said that instead of going after gas taxes, the focus should be on rum.
"Congress hasn’t fully bought in to the full return of the rum tax. It’s not an easy process. We continue to feel this is not the appropriate time" to lobby the gas tax issue, Christensen said.
The delegate did say, however, that she doesn’t oppose the idea of forming a committee to begin studying ways to receive a portion of the gas tax in the future. Such a committee, however, should be made up of people in the private sector who won’t use the issue to gain political mileage.
"We’re not saying we should not consider looking at the issue or developing a strategy," she said. "What we’re saying is right now is not the time."
Cecil Benjamin, president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said he is in "total disagreement" with Christensen’s position.
"When is it going to be the right time to truly deal with this issue," he asked. "The fact is we’ve never gotten support from Congress or the White House. So what are we waiting for?"
After attempts to gain a return on the gas tax failed in the courts in the late 1970s, Benjamin said the issue now has to be addressed through political channels. He suggested that the V.I. rally support from groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP and from the territory’s Caribbean neighbors.
"The way to address this is through political means and negotiations," he said.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan contended that the former Hess Oil of the Virgin Islands, now HOVENSA, should be paying manufacturing taxes, as does V.I. Rum Industries. He said the reluctance by Congress to address the gas tax issue is because representatives don’t want to diminish what their states receive in taxes.
"They should explain why they think that money should not come back here," Bryan said.
"Every other product is applicable."
Other issues discussed Tuesday night included better medical service for military veterans and the assortment of bills Christensen has pending in the House.
Meanwhile, she said President Clinton’s proposed budget for next fiscal year calls for approximately $120 million to go to the territory. That is about the same as last year, she said.

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Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen repeated her concern Tuesday night that the territory take a slow approach in lobbying for a return in gas taxes.
At her third town meeting in the territory while Congress is on its summer break, Christensen said that one of the first things she did when she went to Washington in 1997 was to meet with the White House on the gas tax issue.
"They listened and asked questions but no action was taken," she said. "What we do know is the White House isn’t supporting it and there is no support in Congress."
Based on the more than $680 million in total sales taxes collected on Virgin Islands gas in 1998, a 10 percent return to the V.I. translates into $68 million. A 20 percent return would bring in $136 million.
But Christensen is adamant that without support in Congress and the White House, chasing after the gas tax right now would be futile.
A more realistic goal, she said, is to focus on the full return of rum excise taxes. Currently, the territory receives approximately $50 million a year in rum taxes. If 100 percent of the tax is returned, the territory stands to receive approximately $60 million annually.
But Christensen said the full cover over on rum isn’t even a sure thing as it makes its way through House committees. Because of that, she said that instead of going after gas taxes, the focus should be on rum.
"Congress hasn’t fully bought in to the full return of the rum tax. It’s not an easy process. We continue to feel this is not the appropriate time" to lobby the gas tax issue, Christensen said.
The delegate did say, however, that she doesn’t oppose the idea of forming a committee to begin studying ways to receive a portion of the gas tax in the future. Such a committee, however, should be made up of people in the private sector who won’t use the issue to gain political mileage.
"We’re not saying we should not consider looking at the issue or developing a strategy," she said. "What we’re saying is right now is not the time."
Cecil Benjamin, president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said he is in "total disagreement" with Christensen’s position.
"When is it going to be the right time to truly deal with this issue," he asked. "The fact is we’ve never gotten support from Congress or the White House. So what are we waiting for?"
After attempts to gain a return on the gas tax failed in the courts in the late 1970s, Benjamin said the issue now has to be addressed through political channels. He suggested that the V.I. rally support from groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP and from the territory’s Caribbean neighbors.
"The way to address this is through political means and negotiations," he said.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan contended that the former Hess Oil of the Virgin Islands, now HOVENSA, should be paying manufacturing taxes, as does V.I. Rum Industries. He said the reluctance by Congress to address the gas tax issue is because representatives don’t want to diminish what their states receive in taxes.
"They should explain why they think that money should not come back here," Bryan said.
"Every other product is applicable."
Other issues discussed Tuesday night included better medical service for military veterans and the assortment of bills Christensen has pending in the House.
Meanwhile, she said President Clinton’s proposed budget for next fiscal year calls for approximately $120 million to go to the territory. That is about the same as last year, she said.