Nov. 4, 2004 Delegate Donna M. Christensen, a Democrat, is trying to keep a positive attitude in light of Tuesday's Republican victories. She said Thursday in a Source interview she's hearing President George W. Bush say the "right things," and she plans to hold him to his word.
"We'll do whatever we can to make the best out of this. We have to look for opportunities," she said, talking on her cell phone as she got ready to head off to St. Kitts for the New York Carib News business conference.
However, she pointed out that there's a major difference in what she thinks should be done and what the Republicans think should be done
Christensen said she plans to remind Bush that the territories and minorities need special attention.
She said she fears Republicans will try to overturn abortion legislation Roe v. Wade, will fund religious organizations that practice discrimination and continue to pass tax cuts for the wealthy.
"I don't have any real reason to assume it would be otherwise," she said.
She expects to again tackle the cap on the rum tax issue. The territory gets all but 25 cents of the $13.50 per proof gallon excise tax on rum manufactured in St. Croix but sold on the mainland. It brought $78 million to the territory last year. She wants the entire $13.50 tax to be returned to the territory and the money withheld in past years to be paid retroactively to the territory.
However, she acknowledged that it will be an uphill battle given the Republican administration's interest in tax cuts and its need to fund the war in Iraq.
"It makes it a bit tougher. I understand what we're up against," she said.
She said that tying the money that comes from the rum tax to a specific issue might make it more palatable. Christensen suggested that since the territory is under a U.S. District Court Consent Decree to fix the sewer systems, that would be a good place to start.
Christensen said she expects new Economic Development Commission rules to go into effect in three to four months.
"The companies need guidance and some assurance on how to operate," she said.
Christensen said that while negotiations are the territory's Internal Revenue Bureau's bailiwick, she'll be involved in the discussions with the U.S. Treasury as the territory seeks to make them more acceptable to EDC beneficiary companies.
Christensen said she hopes to persuade the U.S. Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee to take up the issue of a Chief Financial Officer for the territory before the end of the current term. The bill has already passed the House.
"It won't be unanimous consent," she predicted.
If it doesn't get through the Senate before the term ends, the bill will again have to gain House approval before moving on to the Senate. The House approved the bill in September.
On the Medicaid front, she said she'll continue to push for lifting the cap that limits the amount of money the territory receives from this federally-funded program.
She said she expects the territory to receive $2.5 million of an $8 million health package tied to Medicaid funding for the territories. The $2.5 million will be split between the territory's hospitals. She anticipates this will happen before the end of the year.
Christensen said she is pushing for the federal government to open a Border Patrol unit in the territory. The territory, particularly St. John, sees frequent arrivals of illegal aliens.
"The issue is important to our overall strategy to protect against crime in the territory," she said.
She said she also plans to continue efforts to smooth out the territory's relationship with the nearby British Virgin Islands regarding commercial fishing licenses.
She said it was important for the federal government to remember that the U.S. Virgin Islands is part of the United States and that it needs to mediate on the territory's behalf on this issue.
"It's unfortunate it's come to this kind of disagreement," she said.
Christensen said the time might be ripe to reintroduce a federal disaster insurance program similar to the National Flood Insurance program.
There have been several attempts made, but no progress was made.
She said that since Florida received so much attention thanks to the arrival of four hurricanes this season, the issue is timely. She said people who were hit with multiple hurricanes had to pay multiple deductibles, a problem that makes a federal disaster insurance program even more necessary.
Christiansen said gaining National Heritage status for St. Croix is on her priority list. She anticipated it would take the next couple of years to accomplish this. St. Croix qualifies because Alexander Hamilton, the country's first secretary of the Treasury, grew up on St. Croix (although he was born on Nevis).
As defined by the National Park Service, a National Heritage Area "is a region in which residents, businesses, and governments join together to preserve, promote and celebrate their heritage, culture and natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations."
She said that since federal funding comes with the designation, this will be a boon for St. Croix. Christiansen noted that the program does not take land away from the local government.
She said she also plans to reintroduce an amendment so residents in all the territories can vote for president.
"It would have been a Kerry victory for sure," she said, had residents of the territories been able to cast votes in Tuesday's national election.
She said it's unfair that territorial residents can fight in the nation's wars, but can't vote for their commander in chief, the president.
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