Gov. Kenneth Mapp spoke to an A.M. radio audience Tuesday afternoon and talked about the administration’s plans – some already announced – to move the territory forward in spite of a local economy in free-fall.
Radio talk show host Mario Moorhead introduced Mapp as the “honorable governor – the most effective campaigner we have ever seen in the Virgin Islands.”
The governor returned the compliment, proclaiming Moorhead an “iconic part of the fabric of the Virgin Islands.”
Mapp spoke for the next hour without a break before answering questions from Moorhead and listeners.
Mapp repeated what he has said recently that, on taking office, he found the government in “quite a bit of dysfunction” with millions of federal dollars available that hadn’t been spent.
Mapp said the V.I. Health Department has $16 million in grants that have not been spent, and that he intends to use some to fund “rolling clinics” for the mentally ill and $5 – $6 million that is designated for home visits for infants and mothers by Health staff.
Mapp said all of the territory’s senior centers will reopen by June and that breakfast and lunch will be provided. Included in the found funds are monies to hire 22 staff members and purchase vehicles, he said.
More than 200 retirees have been waiting for their first retirement check for more than a year and Mapp said all will be paid by May. Likewise, he said, tax refunds have been sent out for the last few months and now $1 million a month is being refunded.
Other federal funding available, according to the governor, is $56 million from U.S. Housing and Urban Development. Some will be used for renovating homes for seniors living in the towns, Mapp said.
Mapp said the territory is due to collect $35 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to be added to the V.I. treasury.
The financial system of the V.I. government will be reformed so that there is one financial system rather than one for each of 16 agencies, according to the governor.
Mapp reiterated that the renovation of the Paul E. Joseph stadium will go forward and that Hovensa is “still free to sell” the refinery to whomever they want.
Leadership and plans for several agencies have not been finalized and Mapp said he is waiting for the right people. Law enforcement is still being assessed and Mapp said that, after talking with the U.S. Attorney General, there soon will be an announcement how multiple enforcement agencies will work together.
Violent criminals are being sent to off-island facilities at half the cost to the government as confining them at Golden Grove Correctional Facility, he said, adding that mental health patients will be able to come home and be cared for locally with $300 million in Medicaid over the next 10 years.
The governor talked about building roads, installing streetlights and instituting a “sin tax” so that farmers can grow food for the territory and the school lunch program.
Sports and events tourism will be encouraged by his administration, he said. The governor is talking to a stateside racetrack operator about renovating and running the St. Croix horse track. If that happens, the V.I. government will invest $500,000 for winnings “to become the center of racing in this region.” No public money will be used for reconstructing the track, he said.
To improve the tax base, Mapp said he has been in contact with “two major technology companies” about relocating to St. Croix. He said the island offers data storage capacity, services from the V.I. Next Generation Network and low taxes.
The governor’s charm didn’t prevent Moorhead or his listeners from pressing Mapp on several questions, such as his St. Thomas residence and the raises he approved for new commissioners.
The second hour of the radio show began with Moorhead asking several questions – including about “the most salient issue,” salary increases for new commissioners in light of the government’s financial status.
Mapp defended his decision and said he based increases on the “capacity and efficiency” of the individuals who are willing to serve. The total amount of the salary adjustments is $254,000 a year, he added.
A caller asked several times in different ways whether or not the governor would ever live in Catherineberg – the expected St. Thomas governor’s residence. Mapp admitted he will not live in Catherineberg. Questioned further, Mapp said, "I’m living in St. Croix.”
Moorhead and his listeners also wanted to know why two government agencies were involved in dredging the Charlotte Amalie Harbor.
Mapp said a delay in the Army Corps of Engineers permit made it appear that duplicate payments were being made, but the cost would have been much more to stop and start the process again.
One caller asked the governor about his attitude towards relaxing marijuana laws. He said decriminalization “needed to happen” but he doesn’t have strong feelings one way or another.
“I don’t know what my feelings are. I don’t believe we’re ready with whole selling,” Mapp said. “I’m not sure what is the medical use.”
Another caller wanted to know about corruption at the prison, things he said that would make the governor “cry” if he knew what was going on. Millions of dollars have gone missing and recently a guard reportedly pulled his weapon while on duty, the caller said.
Mapp said, “I know there are tremendous issues. Help is on the way,” he added, but declined to elaborate on that plan yet.
Mapp said he plans to return to the radio show again this year. Moorhead said he would be welcome.