Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone and 13 members of the Legislature met with Gov. John deJongh Jr. and his financial team Monday to hash out revenue-generating measures to close a projected $40 million budget deficit this year, Government House and the V.I. Legislature have confirmed.
Malone described the meeting as "encouraging, constructive and productive" and said the senators will meet together later this month to fine tune some of their proposals and meet shortly thereafter with the governor and his team to in order to reach consensus on how to proceed.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said Monday evening the meeting "provided an opportunity for a frank discussion between both the legislators and the administration including the financial team as regards the budgetary shortfall in the current fiscal year."
Greaux said there was an exchange between both sides with potential solutions and that the meeting ended with a commitment for both sides to continue the dialogue about the territory’s fiscal shape.
According to Malone, legislators focused on the recently approved Villa Tax and issues involving the successful collection of those taxes, including lack of personnel at the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Discussion continued on businesses operating in the territory that do not pay their fair share of taxes. There was also discussion on placing a tax on monies being sent through money exchanges off island and the implementation of a departure tax, according to Malone.
"There was a general consensus that the implementation of new revenues should have a marginal impact on our citizens at a time when they are already facing increased costs in several areas. New revenues should and must be found by closing loopholes in existing laws and in stepped up collections by IRB of monies legitimately owed to the government," Malone said.
Both the Legislature and executive branch mutually agreed to monitor revenue collections and expenditures closely during the third and fourth quarters. If revenue projections fail to meet required levels, Budget Director Debra Gottlieb will reduce allotment levels "as is customary" to government agencies to allow the government to spend within its means, Malone said.
"My colleagues and I remain focused on restoring the territory’s economy and setting the agenda for sustained economic growth," Malone said, adding that they Senate was pleased by the meeting and would continue to work with the governor and his financial team “to establish new sources of revenues that will meet the increasing needs of the operation of the Virgin Islands government.”