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Territory Would Get Municipal Governments Under Constitutional Convention Proposals

Sept. 15, 2008 — St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas may each become separate municipal districts, with local ordinances, local magistrates and whatever form of legislature and executive they choose when crafting their charters, according to draft wording before the Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention.
The committees handling constitutional passages on general government taxation met Monday on the University of the Virgin Islands' St. Croix campus to discuss suggestions returned from the last plenary session and work toward final language to present to the whole convention. Chairwoman Violette Anne Golden read draft language from the Fourth Constitutional Convention, along with language from the plenary session and additional language she is proposing.
While each of the three major islands would automatically become a political subdivision, with certain powers of self-government, more subdivisions could be created within any of those three, such as Frederiksted and Christiansted municipalities. But only if voters in the district to be subdivided vote for it.
Under language kept from the fourth convention, each subdivision would have the power to create its own local charter. But no mechanism for creating the charters was written. Golden proposed having the Legislature establish and appoint members of charter commissions, who would produce a charter to be voted up or down by the district's voters.
"It seems like we are putting these local charters back in the hands of the Legislature if we do that," said Delegate Rena Brodhurst, suggesting having the legislators from each district form charter commissions within their district. Delegate Gerard Emanuel agreed. Golden said she agreed, too, and would take all their suggestions, compile them and present them to the whole convention at the next plenary session.
While the Legislature would have the ultimate power over taxation, under the draft language a political subdivision may petition the Legislature to impose a tax to be used for that district or municipality. In debate among the delegates, Golden said she believed property tax would be local, as in most states, while income tax, excise-tax remittances and perhaps gross-receipts taxes would be territorial. Aside from giving greater local control over local revenues, this would allow St. John to have a different property tax rate than St. Thomas or St. Croix. Under federal law, while rates may be different in different districts, they cannot be different within the same district.
Delegate Robert Schuster, chairman of the committee on taxation, read draft text on that issue. In most respects, taxation under the new constitution appears similar to how it is now. But Schuster noted that giving municipal governments taxing authority meant the municipal sections and taxing sections had to be made consistent with one another. He said he would work with Golden to consolidate the two sections.
No votes were taken. The committee on government had a quorum and the committee on taxation did not.
Present were Golden, Brodhurst, Craig Barshinger, Gerard Emanuel, Mario A. Francis, Mary Moorhead, Eugene Petersen, Robert Schuster, Stedman Hodge Jr., Michael Thurland and Douglas Capdeville.
The convention is coming down to the wire, with a revised deadline of Oct. 6 to produce a document. It has asked the Legislature for an extension, but has not been granted one to date.
The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1976 to allow the people of the Virgin Islands and of Guam to adopt territorial constitutions. Any constitution has to be consistent with federal law and with the U.S. constitution. The form of the government must be republican in form, with executive, legislative and judicial branches, and it must have a bill of rights. But there are few other restrictions. The website itsourfuture.vi has excerpts and links to the full text of the relevant laws and much more information.
There have been four previous constitutional conventions, but no territorial constitution yet. The most recent convention was in 1980. For a detailed history of previous conventions, and extensive background information on the subject, see "V.I. CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS: BACKGROUND."
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