Feb. 1, 2005 Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's seventh State of the Territory Address before the 26th Legislature Monday night resonated with some of the territory's leaders Tuesday. With reactions ranging from "historic" to "superficial," everybody had an opinion on the governor's words.
Judging from a sampling of opinion gathered Tuesday, the governor probably did himself proud this year. His 2004 address was met with lukewarm response from lawmakers who cited both a lack of direction and a failure to provide specific proposals for solving the territory's fiscal woes.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said after the 2004 address, which he termed "an extremely weak speech and performance," that Turnbull "should simply have said, 'Refer to the speeches of 2001, 2002 and 2003.'"
No such comments surfaced Tuesday. Though White was unavailable for comment, Sens. Louis Hill and other lawmakers were mainly supportive of the governor's remarks.
Hill said he was "especially pleased" at the governor's mention of Government Employee System reform. Hill has been working on that legislation for more than two years. Hill is co-sponsor on the current bill which is primarily sponsored by Sen. Usie Richards.
Hill said he thought Turnbull did "a pretty good job of outlining the territory's economic situation." He said, "His statements on revenues demonstrate that the 25th Legislature's policies were substantive, and moved the economy in the right direction. This is clearly demonstrated by the figures he gave."
Other politicians took the long view. Former Delegate to Congress Ron de Lugo said Turnbull's address was what he has been waiting for "for seven years."
"He really stepped up to the plate," de Lugo said, "it was the best I've heard. He did what an elected leader is supposed to do. He spoke in historic terms; he didn't equivocate. He faced very controversial issues election reform, municipal government, the V. I . Supreme Court."
De Lugo said, "It was breathtaking, inspiring. He has laid out for public debate by the people these very important issues. He didn't deal with the day to day issues so much he took the historical point of view. He told people where he stood. Now it's up to the people to discuss it and decide if they agree or not.
"Turnbull is a historian," de Lugo continued, "he has to know how important this address is. This is what I've been waiting for all along. His previous addresses were housekeeping. This is a very important address; Turnbull is staking out his place in V. I. history."
He added, "And he seemed to be having fun. This is the most relaxed I've seen him. He ad libbed. He spoke to the right people."
Turnbull's support of enacting legislation to adopt the Revised Organic Act of 1954 as amended to be the territory's constitution drew sharply divided comment.
Turnbull said Monday that the amended Organic Act should include municipal governments. Majority Sen. Usie Richards is drafting legislation on the proposal.
Most of the minority senators have voiced opposition, however. Hill voiced strong objections to the idea Tuesday. "One thing I disagree with the governor on is the constitutional convention. Maybe he hasn't really thought it through. Any constitution that is going to be adopted must have public input, so the idea of the Legislature voting to adopt the Organic Act with all its problems is not the correct path to go."
Hill said if the Organic Act were adopted as the constitution and even if it were amended by the Senate, "it takes the public out of the process. The public would never have a chance. We must take it to the public, and allow people to participate first."
Another sore point with several people was the governor's lack of any mention of the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan, legislation which has been the rounds of public forums in the last two years, under the guidance of Hill. Richards, a member of the Senate majority, is the bill's prime sponsor.
"I find it disappointing that he didn't even mention it," Hill said. Turnbull has discussed the issue in previous addresses. Hill noted the majority has not mentioned the issue. He said, "That should be a priority on their agenda."
Anna Maria Hector, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce president, also noticed Turnbull's omission of the plan. "I question his not mentioning it," Hector said. "How are we going to get hotels and development here. There is lots of controversy surrounding it. We need to put it to bed for once and for all. It's a political football. We need to decide where people can invest. They waste so much money, and at the end of the day, they are caught up with the CZM (Coastal Zone Management) and the political wrangling, and all is lost. We need to figure out how to deal with this."
Overall, Hector said, she feels good about Turnbull's address. "I am optimistic. I think it's good he mentioned Team St. Croix. At least he acknowledged we exist. I hope everything he said he was going to do for St. Croix is accomplished."
Hector also had reservations about the use charge proposed by the newly created Waste Management Authority. "The charge per pound for products brought into the territory is an issue," Hector said. "We have people in St. Croix hurting, and this is an additional burden."
The WMA has not yet announced a rate scale for the proposed user fee.
Though business leader and primary author of Turnbull's Five-Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan, John de Jongh, agreed mention should have been made of the land use plan, his attention was focused elsewhere.
"It's disappointing that he gave no indication of any initiatives at all. He didn't address the deficit in the GERS, even though there has been a GERS reform bill for over a year. No mention of education in terms of facilities or retroactive wages. He didn't address the fact that one segment of our economy is going away, EDC (Economic Development Commission) beneficiaries, and not much has been done about it. What the speech lacked is exactly what will be done to address these areas; the speech was extremely superficial as to these issues," de Jongh said.
"One area I would have thought he would address is GERS reform, the growing deficit. We always talk of the challenges. There's the advocacy group (Advocates for Preservation of the Retirement System). We need to call a summit (with the stakeholders) to get people to decide what's best. We need to get the 40-year-olds who will be faced with this problem."
De Jongh concluded, "As expected, the governor was extremely optimistic and positive, rightfully so. People need to expect times to get better." However, he noted, "Even in the areas of crime, there are no new initiatives, which I think is somewhat superficial."
Realtor April Newland didn't mince words. The address, she said, was, " Quite interesting, but he didn't touch on some of our rudimentary problems, like crime and education. He seemed to gloss over certain things that, unless he addresses them, we are never going to stabilize our economy."
Newland said, "I was just in Florida, and a piece of property that we would call a shack in Frenchtown, was going for $600,000. I think we have a lot of missed opportunities.
"We have to address the crime problem, give the kids books, and be realistic about how we derive our income," she said. "Three of my clients have left and they are not coming back. The EDC program is in jeopardy. As long as people are delusional, we can't make any real progress. It's nice to be upbeat, but I'd rather talk about the fundamental problems we have."
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