Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp gets it. The members of the V.I. Senate either don’t, or don’t want to.
A tepid response from investors last week signaled the end of the easy way. People with money don’t want to lend it to the U.S. Virgin Islands. On Friday, Mapp said the planned bond sale is off.
So there’s a $110 million hole in the budget. You can’t borrow money to fill it. That’s over. That’s settled. So there are really only two choices – cut spending, or increase revenue. No matter what you call them, that’s what it comes down to – cuts or taxes.
Cutting $110 million from the fiscal year budget when the year is already well underway is a very difficult proposition, and the longer the government waits, the more painful it will be. And since so much of the territory’s budget is in personnel, it will almost certainly require letting people go, maybe a lot of them.
Increasing revenue means raising new tax money or increasing fees. Not a pleasant proposition, but it beats the alternative, especially since Mapp tried to craft a proposal that would affect visitors to the islands more than the residents.
In truth, probably some combination of the two will be required.
But to hear lawmakers talk, there are all sorts of options that haven’t been considered yet. Sen. Novelle Francis wants the governor to consider "more fiscally responsible measures to avert any possible cash flow issues.” But what are they? Whatever you call such measures, they come down to one of two things – raising more money or cutting spending. What other measures does the senator have in mind?
Sen. Sammuel Sanes expressed concern that increasing taxes "will not improve the financial wellbeing of our economy.” Well, no one said it would, but if you don’t increase taxes you’re going to have to make heavy cuts in the budget, and it’s hard to see how laying off a number of government workers is going to help the local economy either.
It is, as the saying goes, time to "pick your poison." The territory is facing two unpalatable options. No one wants to cut spending, no one wants to raise taxes. But one or the other of those two options or a combination of both are the only solution. The governor has chosen his. The senators are going to have to choose theirs – and soon.
It doesn’t do anyone any good for them to pretend that there are other choices, choices that are being ignored, that aren’t painful. There are two choices. They are hard, but simple.