April 1, 2005 – "Intellectually stimulating, very informative and educational," were some of the adjectives audience members used to describe the public forum hosted by Generation Now Inc. and the University of the Virgin Islands Student Activities Office.
The three presenters were Rena Brodhurst, publisher of the St Croix Avis and a strong proponent of Crucian secession, Arnold "Morty" Golden, community activist and advocate for municipal government, and Louis Willis, director of the Virgin Islands Internal Revenue Bureau.
The three addressed a crowd of more than 150 people who packed the UVI Cafetorium.
In her presentation, Brodhurst said St. Croix needs total empowerment to run its own affairs. "We have been disadvantaged for a half a century, we need to be empowered." Brodhurst gave the example of St. Croix's sewage problems. She said even though St. Croix has a bigger problem with sewage, and numerous federal mandates to fix the problem, the Waste Management Authority is addressing problems on St. Thomas first. "The sewage problem is an abomination."
Brodhurst said St. Croix's improvements need to be decided on St. Croix. "If we want a hotel," we should decide. "We need to be in a position where we are veto proof." Brodhurst said municipal government would not solve the problems. "We are looking to stretch further than municipal government."
Golden gave a detailed history on the emergence of the territorial government that is in place now. He said in the 200 years that St. Croix was the capital of the Virgin Islands, the needs of St. Thomas were not met. St. Thomas wanted the capital to be moved to "help their ailing economy." He explained that the distance between the islands as well as the contrast between the "cosmopolitan" lifestyle of St. Thomas versus the agrarian society of St. Croix resulted in different needs for each district. Observing that the same situation is occurring now between the island districts, Golden said, "I would give up all thoughts of municipal government if the capital was moved back to St. Croix."
Willis took safety in the middle ground of facts and figures instead of arguing to fix the current system, as was advertised. He offered figures on employment and revenue generation for each island district. He said 2004 revenues collected by the Internal Revenue Bureau in the territory totaled $545,249,404.61. In the St. Thomas/St. John district $399,933,067.82 was collected, while in St. Croix $145,316.336.79 was collected. Willis said out of 9,175 government employees, 47 percent or 4,305 were employed on St. Croix and 53 percent or 4,870 were employed on St. Thomas/St. John.
Continuing her pitch for self-governance, Brodhurst said, "God has already separated us by water. We have the infrastructure, the hospital, the schools and public safety." Brodhurst said the present system of government does not work. She said individuals run for office with the best intentions but when they are elected find they are ineffective. "Our senators' hands are tied," Brodhurst said.
She pointed to senators who have been re-elected numerous times in St. Thomas/St. John while the turnover is much higher in St. Croix. We need someone who is in charge of each district right here," Brodhurst said. She pointed to success stories of Aruba, Anguilla and St. Lucia who are now self-governing.
Willis said the reason the St. Thomas economy is better is because of its proximity to the British Virgin Islands. "St. Thomas collects more gross receipts," Willis said. He said people from Tortola and Jost Van Dyke stock up on food from Plaza Extra, Cost-U-Less and Pueblo. "There are no major food chains on those islands," he said. Willis said one food chain on St. Thomas he declined to identify increased its profits from $78 million in 2003 to $82 million in 2004.
Willis also said road taxes need to be increased. He said last year 8,279 cars were imported into the territory, and, if the current rate of importation continues, in five years 41,000 cars will be imported yearly. "There needs to be deterrence for vehicles coming into the territory; they come here to die."
"The buck needs to stop somewhere," Brodhurst said. "To continue to have the same management is ludicrous. There comes a point in everyone's lives where they move, or remain complacent."
"We need to look closely at what we have and where we need to go," Golden said.
"We have a problem, and the problem is ourselves," Willis said. "We have to make people accountable." Willis said if the government is not giving the people what they want, they should "march and protest."
Evelyn Messer-James said the forum, which ended at approximately 9:30 p.m., was "very informative." Messer-James said she is a supporter of self-governance. "I'm tired of being managed," she said.
Gregory Bennerson agreed that the forum was educational and informative. He said "there are clear distinctions and a lot of similarities" between self-governance and municipal government.
"At some point we have to stop lingering," Renholdt "Rookie" Jackson said. "We are still brothers and sisters, but let me run my own house."
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