March 1, 2006 — Congressional Delegate Donna Christensen and Gov. Charles Turnbull squared off in Washington Wednesday over a bill to appoint a chief financial officer to the territory.
Christensen told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that her bill appointing a federal financial overseer was vital to solve systemic problems that led the islands "to the brink of fiscal collapse."
Turnbull countered by saying that the bill threatened the V.I. government's sovereignty and that much of the territory's financial problems had been fixed.
"The Government is not facing fiscal insolvency or collapse. There simply is no basis for removing from political accountability the essential functions of budget preparation and execution," Turnbull said.
Turnbull said he had eliminated 20 percent of government jobs since 1999 and increased revenues by 35 percent while limiting expenditures to a 4 percent increase.
"The budget is in balance. Revenues have increased while spending has been kept under control," he said.
Christensen acknowledged Turnbull's work, but said the "lax financial practices" that put the territory more than $1 billion in debt remain.
"We have come along way since I first introduced my bill, thanks in large part to a tremendous upswing in nearly all segments of our local economy. However, the practices that led us to the brink of fiscal collapse during down times still remain," she said.
The Senate hasn't scheduled a hearing for the bill, which the House passed unanimously last year.
Turnbull and Christensen united, however, in beseeching the Senate to change new U.S. Treasury rules they say threaten the Economic Development Commission program.
The program, which generated up to 20 percent of government revenues last year, promotes investment in the territory by allowing 90 percent tax breaks for qualified companies.
Congress changed the law governing the program in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, aimed at stopping tax evaders.
"I urge this committee to support our request for a legislative amendment to the Jobs Act to ensure fair and reasonable residency and income rules for our EDC program," Turnbull said.
Christensen said the new residency and source-income requirements went too far in protecting against abuses of the program.
"We believe Congress went farther than was needed in its attempt to deal with abuses in the program and as a consequence the entire program is at serious risk," she said.
David B. Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, said the EDC program attracted many businesses to the territory, bringing large amounts of startup capital to build infrastructure and housing units.
"When Congress enacted the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, however, it cast into doubt the future of the EDC program," Cohen said.
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