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PRICE OF PROTECTING SPECIAL INTERESTS CAN BE HIGH

Dear Source,
"I didn't know what I was signing," a senator told me when I asked how he could have co-sponsored such a flawed bill.
"How could you sign Rocky's bill that 'gifts' a 50-year franchise control of all marine passenger service in the St. Thomas and St. John district to the ferry companies? Tell me how, Senator, after attending two town meetings on St. John where the community loudly said 'No,' could you turn around and grant the ferries the ability to collect an extra $6 per person for riding in their cars on a barge for the next 50 years? Do you not see that the ferries would receive significant compensation from St. Johnians' pocketbooks without providing any service?"
"I thought I was protecting the ferries," said the senator. "I guess I didn't think of how much that protection would cost St. Johnians."
"Well, Senator, a family of four traveling to, say, church, would pay $24 more to the ferries, almost doubling the cost to travel to St. Thomas. That $24 would be a gift to the ferries, because they would do nothing to earn it."
"How about if we compromise on the amount of the fee?" the senator asked.
"No!" I replied. "Utilities can only receive compensation for rendering service. The consumer has to be protected."
"What else is wrong with Rocky's, Ducky's, and Roosevelt's Bill? I mean, all of us senators voted for it. Could we all be wrong?"
"Yes!" I replied instantly and continued to point out, "For 50 years, the ferry companies would control our waters. They can prohibit any competition, any water taxis, any tour boats and any future service for St. John for 50 years. How about if the ferry companies decided to cease a route, or charge higher fares? No one else could come to our rescue, as competition will be outlawed by this Bill. Have you had any meetings with other carriers in the territory to tell them that the ferries could put them out of business?"
"Well, Celestino White and Norma Pickard-Samuel are trying to stop water taxis to protect taxi drivers," the senator replied. "This ferry bill would help that cause."
"Why are you trying to restrain trade? Isn't competition good for the soul? Isn't it in the best interest of the territory to have a variety of services for locals and visitors?" I asked. "Don't such services bring in revenues for the territory?"
"So what? Now, are you going to say that we senators shouldn't have included the 100 percent tax holiday for 50 years for the ferry companies? These are local businesses!"
"Senator, if you give it all away, won't you have to raise taxes on everyone else? Businesses are supposed to be managed to create income and to pay taxes. Such bills only put the tax burden on the backs of the people."
"Okay, tell me what bill for the ferries should we propose?" the senator asked.
"None. The Public Services Commission should permit the ferry companies to operate their scheduled routes between Cruz Bay and Red Hook, and between Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie as long as the ferries provide satisfactory service. However, I do see a future when the St. John community and our visitors could have a ferry service to and from a dock at Lindbergh Bay at Cyril E. King Airport. I mean, wouldn't it be nice if we could get on a boat directly to St. John from the airport?"
"Whoa!" the senator said. "What about the taxis hauling everyone through the St. Thomas roads to Red Hook? You can't interfere with the taxis, or I'll lose votes!"
"What about all the votes you would get from the people? Don't they count?"
"The people aren't as vocal as the taxi drivers, so I'll do whatever the taxis want. Just ask Celestino or Norma."
"So, Senator, you're saying the Senate concentrates on special-interest legislation to garner a few votes and a few bucks, regardless of how it effects the people?"
"That's right!" the senator responded proudly.
"Well, Senator, if you want a wake-up call from the people, come to the St. John Legislature Building on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 6:30 p.m. for a town meeting on this bill."
"Sorry, can't make it." the senator replied. "I believe I have a meeting with the taxis, or is it with Jeffrey Prosser, or is it a meeting to rename all the buildings in the territory, or is it to discuss my salary? All I know is that I'll be too busy to meet with the people."
"I understand, Senator; you have to have your priorities."
Don't you, the affected people, miss the opportunity to discuss this issue. Come to the St. John Legislature Conference Room on Dec. 11th at 6:30 p.m.
Steve Black
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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Dear Source,
"I didn't know what I was signing," a senator told me when I asked how he could have co-sponsored such a flawed bill.
"How could you sign Rocky's bill that 'gifts' a 50-year franchise control of all marine passenger service in the St. Thomas and St. John district to the ferry companies? Tell me how, Senator, after attending two town meetings on St. John where the community loudly said 'No,' could you turn around and grant the ferries the ability to collect an extra $6 per person for riding in their cars on a barge for the next 50 years? Do you not see that the ferries would receive significant compensation from St. Johnians' pocketbooks without providing any service?"
"I thought I was protecting the ferries," said the senator. "I guess I didn't think of how much that protection would cost St. Johnians."
"Well, Senator, a family of four traveling to, say, church, would pay $24 more to the ferries, almost doubling the cost to travel to St. Thomas. That $24 would be a gift to the ferries, because they would do nothing to earn it."
"How about if we compromise on the amount of the fee?" the senator asked.
"No!" I replied. "Utilities can only receive compensation for rendering service. The consumer has to be protected."
"What else is wrong with Rocky's, Ducky's, and Roosevelt's Bill? I mean, all of us senators voted for it. Could we all be wrong?"
"Yes!" I replied instantly and continued to point out, "For 50 years, the ferry companies would control our waters. They can prohibit any competition, any water taxis, any tour boats and any future service for St. John for 50 years. How about if the ferry companies decided to cease a route, or charge higher fares? No one else could come to our rescue, as competition will be outlawed by this Bill. Have you had any meetings with other carriers in the territory to tell them that the ferries could put them out of business?"
"Well, Celestino White and Norma Pickard-Samuel are trying to stop water taxis to protect taxi drivers," the senator replied. "This ferry bill would help that cause."
"Why are you trying to restrain trade? Isn't competition good for the soul? Isn't it in the best interest of the territory to have a variety of services for locals and visitors?" I asked. "Don't such services bring in revenues for the territory?"
"So what? Now, are you going to say that we senators shouldn't have included the 100 percent tax holiday for 50 years for the ferry companies? These are local businesses!"
"Senator, if you give it all away, won't you have to raise taxes on everyone else? Businesses are supposed to be managed to create income and to pay taxes. Such bills only put the tax burden on the backs of the people."
"Okay, tell me what bill for the ferries should we propose?" the senator asked.
"None. The Public Services Commission should permit the ferry companies to operate their scheduled routes between Cruz Bay and Red Hook, and between Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie as long as the ferries provide satisfactory service. However, I do see a future when the St. John community and our visitors could have a ferry service to and from a dock at Lindbergh Bay at Cyril E. King Airport. I mean, wouldn't it be nice if we could get on a boat directly to St. John from the airport?"
"Whoa!" the senator said. "What about the taxis hauling everyone through the St. Thomas roads to Red Hook? You can't interfere with the taxis, or I'll lose votes!"
"What about all the votes you would get from the people? Don't they count?"
"The people aren't as vocal as the taxi drivers, so I'll do whatever the taxis want. Just ask Celestino or Norma."
"So, Senator, you're saying the Senate concentrates on special-interest legislation to garner a few votes and a few bucks, regardless of how it effects the people?"
"That's right!" the senator responded proudly.
"Well, Senator, if you want a wake-up call from the people, come to the St. John Legislature Building on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 6:30 p.m. for a town meeting on this bill."
"Sorry, can't make it." the senator replied. "I believe I have a meeting with the taxis, or is it with Jeffrey Prosser, or is it a meeting to rename all the buildings in the territory, or is it to discuss my salary? All I know is that I'll be too busy to meet with the people."
"I understand, Senator; you have to have your priorities."
Don't you, the affected people, miss the opportunity to discuss this issue. Come to the St. John Legislature Conference Room on Dec. 11th at 6:30 p.m.
Steve Black
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.