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Compare The Virgin Islands to New York City?

The governor has proposed a 2007 budget to the Senate of $749 million. Assuming that the amount is a realistic figure, and the Senate actually passes all the requests, then we would have a per-capita budget equal to the largest city in the United States: New York City.
New York City has an annual budget of $53 billion. It also has 8.1 million people. That works out to be approximately $6,000 per person. By no means is New York a fine-tuned machine, but lately it manages to provide a wealth of fairly smooth-running services for its population which includes: education, fire, police, public works, trash removal, street cleaning, parks and recreation, city-sponsored youth sports programs, creative arts festivals, infrastructure support to private enterprise, a massive bridge and waterway system, a public transit system and, well … you get the picture.
The Virgin Islands has, based on the proposed 2007 budget of $749 million, a per-person budget of approximately $6,000 (125,000 residents). Do we have the same services? Hardly. In fact, the few services that are mandated for the public good are bordering on laughable. Why is this? How did it get this way? The big question is: How can we change this mess we are in? How can a city with a population of over 8 million compare fiscally with the Virgin Islands?
The answer is easy–it's waste, pure and simple! How do other similar areas compare with the Virgin Islands fiscally? If we looked at other budgets with similar offerings we would see a different scenario:
Martha's Vineyard, Mass. — A small tourist destination island with a year-round population of approximately 15,000 (increases 5-fold during season) has a budget of $2.52 million or $168 per person. A beautiful place to visit, proud of their island, and the residents set the tone.
Virginia Beach, Va. — Another tourist-based city, where the proposed 2007 operating budget is $1.6 billion. With 440,000 residents, that works out to be approximately $3,600 per resident. A city, by the way, that spent millions over several years on improvement to keep those pesky tourists coming.
State of Florida — An agriculture state and a huge tourist and retirement destination that has similar realities as the Virgin Islands: high growth (housing starts, influx of "outsiders") hurricane prone and in an ecologically delicate location. With a year-round population of 18 million and a proposed 2007 budget of $70.8 billion, the per-capita spending is approximately $4,000 per person. The infrastructure alone was a massive undertaking to attract tourism throughout the state as retail sales (tourism, greater population) far exceeds any other industry. Oh yes, they had a few disasters lately.
U.S. Government — $2.8 trillion 2007 proposed budget with a population of approximately 300,000,000 gives us a per-person spending of $9,333. But then, that's the federal government–and there's a war going on! Most money the federal government spends goes directly back into the economy.
For the money, do the Virgin Islands offer better services? Is our infrastructure better? What about debt? Is a large share of our expenditures paying down past and future debt? If so, have we mortgaged our ability to provide services to the population? If we have to spend so much, why isn't it dedicated to improving the infrastructure so that we can attract tourism? Will education improve? Will Virgin Islanders ever see a day where their lives will become more comfortable? Will all the people reap the benefits of a tourist economy? Do we need to diversify our monetary base with industry or attractive business?
These questions have been asked for years and, sadly, have gone mostly unanswered by our government officials. I believe that the questions are out there for all to ask. It's up to our elected officials to answer them.
The only way to solve these problems is through proactive fiscal management. Perhaps zero-based budgeting is the answer, where every governmental department receives nothing until each request is scrutinized to the bare bone and then allowed.
There can be no waste; we cannot afford it nor can our future generations afford it. Unless the government acts now to make sweeping fiscal changes, it is apparent that we will face (or already have) certain fiscal doom. It must be noted that the federal government is keeping a watchful eye on everything. Do we really want a federal takeover of our islands, or do we want to make the necessary changes within our present structure? Do we need to revamp our government completely?
In 2007, a constitutional convention will commence. Will that convention entertain sweeping changes, like a true form of municipal government? Will each island get to keep the taxes generated on that island and exercise its own destiny? Will the central government ever give up that fiscal power? It would be wise to do so, as the burden of running each island from afar is, in itself similar to a "colonial" mentality.
Municipal governance means the inhabitants of each island can conclude for themselves their own present and future needs and decide on them. Can each island support itself through local taxes? Will the central government allow each island to have its own school department, police, fire and public works? Can individual islands have a say in development? These are not radical ideas. Literally, every town in the world has some form of municipal government. The role of the central government, then, is to provide a support mechanism so that each municipality can share in territorial revenues, either federal or other. The now-limited central government can concentrate on security and finding ways to enhance the lives of the populace and leave the day-to-day to the municipality.
Simple, right?
Although lessons can be learned from large cities that took themselves out of economic crises through sound fiscal management, they still remain behemoths that have to be reckoned with on a large scale. New York has mostly accomplished a reorganization project that started over 20 years ago. The result is a greater tourism base, more profits for private business and a much cleaner, safer place to live, work and play. It took great leadership and determination to solve a situation that many thought could not be solved–but they did.
No, we are not New York. The Virgin Islands are small and unique unto itself. The population is comparatively minute, and the people do not need or want a government that is so excessively large that it becomes a monstrous, insatiable beast that eats away at the monetary meal to stay alive while leaving only the scraps for the people. The very people that created the beast must have the will to stop the current fiscal rampage it is on. The problems are evident and all around you.
Each Virgin Islander who sees that there is a problem can become part of the solution. Any person who is part of the problem, even in the smallest way, slows the process of healing our fiscal nightmare. It takes dedication and will.
The time to start healing is now.
Editor's note: A St. John resident since '99, Paul Devine has owned an electrical contracting business on the island since 2002. Professing "a deep love of St. John and its people and culture," Devine wants to save the island from a burdensome government and believes that "autonomous municipal government is the answer."

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The governor has proposed a 2007 budget to the Senate of $749 million. Assuming that the amount is a realistic figure, and the Senate actually passes all the requests, then we would have a per-capita budget equal to the largest city in the United States: New York City.
New York City has an annual budget of $53 billion. It also has 8.1 million people. That works out to be approximately $6,000 per person. By no means is New York a fine-tuned machine, but lately it manages to provide a wealth of fairly smooth-running services for its population which includes: education, fire, police, public works, trash removal, street cleaning, parks and recreation, city-sponsored youth sports programs, creative arts festivals, infrastructure support to private enterprise, a massive bridge and waterway system, a public transit system and, well … you get the picture.
The Virgin Islands has, based on the proposed 2007 budget of $749 million, a per-person budget of approximately $6,000 (125,000 residents). Do we have the same services? Hardly. In fact, the few services that are mandated for the public good are bordering on laughable. Why is this? How did it get this way? The big question is: How can we change this mess we are in? How can a city with a population of over 8 million compare fiscally with the Virgin Islands?
The answer is easy--it's waste, pure and simple! How do other similar areas compare with the Virgin Islands fiscally? If we looked at other budgets with similar offerings we would see a different scenario:
Martha's Vineyard, Mass. -- A small tourist destination island with a year-round population of approximately 15,000 (increases 5-fold during season) has a budget of $2.52 million or $168 per person. A beautiful place to visit, proud of their island, and the residents set the tone.
Virginia Beach, Va. -- Another tourist-based city, where the proposed 2007 operating budget is $1.6 billion. With 440,000 residents, that works out to be approximately $3,600 per resident. A city, by the way, that spent millions over several years on improvement to keep those pesky tourists coming.
State of Florida -- An agriculture state and a huge tourist and retirement destination that has similar realities as the Virgin Islands: high growth (housing starts, influx of "outsiders") hurricane prone and in an ecologically delicate location. With a year-round population of 18 million and a proposed 2007 budget of $70.8 billion, the per-capita spending is approximately $4,000 per person. The infrastructure alone was a massive undertaking to attract tourism throughout the state as retail sales (tourism, greater population) far exceeds any other industry. Oh yes, they had a few disasters lately.
U.S. Government -- $2.8 trillion 2007 proposed budget with a population of approximately 300,000,000 gives us a per-person spending of $9,333. But then, that's the federal government--and there's a war going on! Most money the federal government spends goes directly back into the economy.
For the money, do the Virgin Islands offer better services? Is our infrastructure better? What about debt? Is a large share of our expenditures paying down past and future debt? If so, have we mortgaged our ability to provide services to the population? If we have to spend so much, why isn't it dedicated to improving the infrastructure so that we can attract tourism? Will education improve? Will Virgin Islanders ever see a day where their lives will become more comfortable? Will all the people reap the benefits of a tourist economy? Do we need to diversify our monetary base with industry or attractive business?
These questions have been asked for years and, sadly, have gone mostly unanswered by our government officials. I believe that the questions are out there for all to ask. It's up to our elected officials to answer them.
The only way to solve these problems is through proactive fiscal management. Perhaps zero-based budgeting is the answer, where every governmental department receives nothing until each request is scrutinized to the bare bone and then allowed.
There can be no waste; we cannot afford it nor can our future generations afford it. Unless the government acts now to make sweeping fiscal changes, it is apparent that we will face (or already have) certain fiscal doom. It must be noted that the federal government is keeping a watchful eye on everything. Do we really want a federal takeover of our islands, or do we want to make the necessary changes within our present structure? Do we need to revamp our government completely?
In 2007, a constitutional convention will commence. Will that convention entertain sweeping changes, like a true form of municipal government? Will each island get to keep the taxes generated on that island and exercise its own destiny? Will the central government ever give up that fiscal power? It would be wise to do so, as the burden of running each island from afar is, in itself similar to a "colonial" mentality.
Municipal governance means the inhabitants of each island can conclude for themselves their own present and future needs and decide on them. Can each island support itself through local taxes? Will the central government allow each island to have its own school department, police, fire and public works? Can individual islands have a say in development? These are not radical ideas. Literally, every town in the world has some form of municipal government. The role of the central government, then, is to provide a support mechanism so that each municipality can share in territorial revenues, either federal or other. The now-limited central government can concentrate on security and finding ways to enhance the lives of the populace and leave the day-to-day to the municipality.
Simple, right?
Although lessons can be learned from large cities that took themselves out of economic crises through sound fiscal management, they still remain behemoths that have to be reckoned with on a large scale. New York has mostly accomplished a reorganization project that started over 20 years ago. The result is a greater tourism base, more profits for private business and a much cleaner, safer place to live, work and play. It took great leadership and determination to solve a situation that many thought could not be solved--but they did.
No, we are not New York. The Virgin Islands are small and unique unto itself. The population is comparatively minute, and the people do not need or want a government that is so excessively large that it becomes a monstrous, insatiable beast that eats away at the monetary meal to stay alive while leaving only the scraps for the people. The very people that created the beast must have the will to stop the current fiscal rampage it is on. The problems are evident and all around you.
Each Virgin Islander who sees that there is a problem can become part of the solution. Any person who is part of the problem, even in the smallest way, slows the process of healing our fiscal nightmare. It takes dedication and will.
The time to start healing is now.
Editor's note: A St. John resident since '99, Paul Devine has owned an electrical contracting business on the island since 2002. Professing "a deep love of St. John and its people and culture," Devine wants to save the island from a burdensome government and believes that "autonomous municipal government is the answer."