With trepidation, over the past several weeks, I have been reading about the financial crisis that the Virgin Islands are facing. I have also been somewhat anticipating that someone within the legislative body would have the guts to suggest hard and unpopular solutions to this crisis.
On May 21, I read Governor Turnbull's suggested proposals, and was appalled (but not surprised) when I realized that there was only one suggestion for curtailing expenses. His suggestion of having only 24 pay periods vs. 26 is a fiscally smart one. Not entirely original since this concept has been utilized for many years. By also suggesting direct deposit instead of cutting live checks will help save some money, but not enough to put a dent in the government's expenses. Furthermore, the suggestion of levying more taxes on nutritive food is ridiculous since the cost of food is already too expensive, and the short-term fix of issuing more bonds is only going to come back to bite them harder.
Unfortunately, right now the only quick way to curtail expenses is a mass reorganization, which could entail merging related departments and streamlining staff. I agree that this is an unpopular solution but one that is absolutely necessary. The largest recognized expense to the V.I. government is the $14 million dollars every two weeks to cover payroll. I read somewhere that the current number of persons employed by the government is about 11,000. With that large number of staff you would expect speed and efficiency in the services that are provided. Instead the exact opposite occurs.
Streamlining of the government needs to start from the top down, starting from the governor's administration. I read on May 21 that the protocol officer position was recently filled. We are facing a financial crisis and it is important to have someone ensure that the right colored napkins are available when a VIP comes to the islands? So important that it justifies an $80,000 salary? These type of unnecessary positions need to be eliminated. I do not propose the elimination of positions that are required, such as peace officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, etc However, there are many administrative or support area positions that could be streamlined.
I am also proposing the rolling back of salaries for the top level unclassified positions and our elected officials. Leadership is made through example if one is serious about curtailing expenses then it must start from the top down. For instance, I work in the pharmaceutical industry and last year my company was forced to make hard decisions to curtail expenses. One of the decisions was a staff reduction of about 20 percent. It is also a practice of the company to distribute annual bonuses. This year the top executives elected not to receive their bonus although 40 percent of their yearly pay is bonus related. However, bonuses were distributed to the rest of the company.
There are no easy solutions to fix the problem that we are in (and I say we because a majority of my family still resides on St. Thomas), however, in order to achieve solvency for future generations hard decisions must be made today.
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