The Senate Finance Committee considered and rejected a bill to add a $1 per person marine terminal user’s tax for every cruise passenger visiting the island of St. Croix, Tuesday in Frederiksted.
Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, the bill’s sponsor, argued the tax was small and the revenues urgently needed. She also argued that adding a single dollar per passenger should not be especially onerous because ships arriving in St. Thomas/St. John District pay $5.60 port duties and $5.80 wharfage fees, fees that have been waived for a number of years for ships arriving to the St. Croix District.
The departments of Tourism, Management and Budget, the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, and V.I. Taxicab Commission all entered testimony in opposition to the bill. Each argued the potential benefit of $100,000 to $150,000 in annual revenue was not worth the risk of retaliation by the cruise industry likely cutting back on St. Croix arrivals, jeopardizing roughly $10 million in annual economic benefits to St. Croix.
The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association also entered written testimony opposing the bill, in which FCCA President Michele Paige wrote of the "special partnership the FCCA and the USVI have developed over the past years."
While friendly in tone, Paige’s letter suggested any new fee may result in the FCCA reducing arrivals. "Through the USVI’s extraordinary efforts and hard work, the USVI has experienced growth as a cruise destination. There are numerous factors that drove this increase in cruise tourism. The beauty of the USVI, the charm of your people, the richness of your history and culture, but most importantly, the relative stability of the costs of calling at the USVI. Any increase in operational costs may force cruise lines to review St. Croix as a port-of-call that will have a potential negative impact on St. Croix as a cruise destination," Paige wrote.
Voting to table the bill indefinitely were: Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Sammuel Sanes, Celestino White and Janette Millin-Young. O’Reilly voted nay. Sens. Patrick Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone were absent.