I am unalterably opposed to the imposition of a chief financial officer for the Virgin Islands, because it is an insult to the people of the Virgin Islands, it is unnecessary, it is a step backward in our political progress and it will not work. I am also as offended by this unilateralism, as I was when Governor Schneider sought to have Congress amend the Organic Act to remove the position of lieutenant governor from our political hierarchy.
The Organic Act is our constitution. We cannot permit Congress to amend it without our input. And by input, I do not mean public hearings. Any attempt to amend the Organic Act must be approved by the voters of the Virgin Islands before Congress acts for it to have any legitimacy in these times, and I am confident that Congress will not act in the absence of a clear mandate by a majority of the people. But let's take a look at this proposal and the reasons which have ostensibly prompted it.
The seeming motivation is the perceived overspending by the Legislature and the governor, and I am not here to defend either branch of government. But, like it or not, the Legislature does have the constitutional power to do just that in the absence of an Organic Act prohibition to the contrary, just like Congress which was speared recently by critics for its overspending. In The New York Times of Nov. 25, Ed McKelvey of Goldman Sachs under the headline "Spending Discipline Proves Unfashionable This Year" is quoted as saying "the U.S. federal budget is out of control." May we suggest a CFO for Congress and the president? After all, "Monkey see, monkey do!"
And don't forget that Congress gave its members a raise this year (plus a cost-of-living adjustment!) at the same time that the federal government is running a deficit like we've never had before, and not one member of Congress said "I will not take the increase." Where is their fiscal discipline?
The Legislature of the Virgin Islands is just like any other legislature in the United States. It is composed of members who are elected by the people who are its constituents. The members (like members of Congress) do indeed want to be re-elected and do appropriate money (real and imagined) to fund projects which are good for their constituents — e.g. roads — and for projects which do not benefit all of the people. But a CFO will not and cannot prevent that from occurring. And notwithstanding Republican comments of support, I remember well some of the pork barrel legislation proposed in the 16th Legislature! And they want to talk about fiscal discipline?
The CFO, as conceived, will be chosen by the governor, subject to confirmation by the Legislature, from three persons recommended by a committee led by the Secretary of the Interior. What happens if the governor doesnt choose anyone or, worse, his choice turns out to be a dud? What happens if the Legislature does not confirm any nominee? Does the Secretary then unilaterally determine who will be the CFO? Do we want the Secretary of Interior to interfere in our politics? Do we care? Doesn't all this fly in the face of constitutional government which the United States is seeking for the rest of the world?
Okay, so we cross that bridge and we have a CFO who replaces the Office of Management and Budget and who will determine which projects will benefit the people and which will not. Why does anyone think his/her decisions will be any more palatable to a greater number of people than not? This CFO will do exactly what the director of OMB now does. If the budget is over-appropriated, the CFO becomes the decision-maker for what projects will be funded, but he/she will not be someone our elected representatives would have chosen.
Isn't the essence of democracy government by the people for the people? And poor fellow/lady — the salary will be determined by the governor! If I were governor, I would pay him/her a dollar a year, since the person wants to save us from ourselves. If successful, that ought to be reward enough! If not, we can say he/she was a good and faithful public servant.
This legislation also will enable every candidate for governor in 2006 to avoid the very accountability it seeks to impose. The sunset for it is five years after it is enacted, which, if enacted in 2003, would be 2008, two years after the 2006 elections for governor. That's very convenient for anyone running for governor in 2006, since all the candidates could hide behind the CFO.
I am in favor of more efficiency and financial accountability in government. In fact, they are two of my mantras; but I care more about constitutional government than I care about having trains run on time. For better or for worse, we have elected a Legislature and a governor to "do the people's business." This proposed CFO legislation will not get through Congress before November 2004. The public I meet is opposed to this CFO business, so let's put the issue to a referendum in 2004 and add the need for a balanced budget. That's the constitutional and democratic way to amend the Organic Act and ensure legislative enactment of a balanced budget.
Derek M. Hodge
Editor's note: The delegate's legislation provides for the governor to name an acting CFO from the three candidates presented if the Legislature does not confirm his appointment within 90 days. It provides for the Secretary of the Interior to name an acting CFO from the list of three if a CFO has not been appointed within 180 of enactment of the measure. It states that the CFO may be removed only "for cause," but does not say by whom.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.