Senator Rivera-O’Reilly dismisses business owners concerns about tax hikes and is quoted as saying, "I don’t take the business owners at face value because when it matters, they are not there at the table."
The suggestion from the senator that the thousands of business owners in the Virgin Islands don’t care about our community is deeply troubling and plainly false.
Not only does the private sector create jobs which support thousands of Virgin Islands families, but we are also the backbone of the community, paying an extensive list of taxes including gross receipts, license fees, payroll and FICA taxes, unemployment taxes and corporate and personal income tax. Also, some private sector employers provide health care, life insurance, and pension plans as well.
Small and large companies across the territory give generously to charity. Here is a small sampling of charities, government agencies and scholarships supported by the private sector: Family Resource Center, The Women’s Coalition, Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Foundation, Lutheran Social Services, My Brothers Workshop, Salvation Army, The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, St. Thomas Reformed Church, Catholic Charities, Pistarckle Theater, The Forum, Antilles School, Montessori School, Charlotte Amalie High School, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Little League West, Little League East, United Way, Red Cross, Nana’s Baby Home, Police Benevolent Society, USVI Dept. of Education, American Cancer Society, The Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital, Roy Lester Schneider Regional Center, Queen Louise Home for the Aged and junior and high school sports teams too numerous to mention.
Local companies give to make our community better and stronger.
We have a right and an obligation to protest burdensome taxes that will only lead to more store closings and loss of employment and, inevitably, diminished tax collection. We are at the table because we care about our employees, our consumers, our businesses and yes, our families. We are at the table now just like we are at the table when we are asked to make charitable contributions; when we are asked to help government agencies and schools; and, when we are asked to make political contributions.
The enemy here is the anti-business attitude displayed by Senator O’Reilly. The Virgin Islands is in a fiscal mess not because of the hardworking community of business owners and their employees, but because of the government’s refusal to make fiscally responsible decisions. It is the pervasive cycle of spend, borrow and tax, spend, borrow and tax that has brought us to the abyss. Any new taxes will irreparably damage our fragile economy.
It is easy and rather cynical to dismiss our concerns and to attack us for being opposed to more taxes as well as to say that we don’t care about anything but our pocketbooks. We care about our employees, their families, our customers and offering the best possible prices to locals and visitors alike. Senator O’Reilly does not seem to feel the same way based on her comments and actions. Regardless of the repercussions of the bill, if passed, every senator will continue to get paid every two weeks. Can the same be said for the over 25,000 private sector employees and their families?
In the spirit of not presenting a problem without also presenting solutions, there are many actions that the Legislature could take to increase revenues. Here are a few:
• Allowing additional berthing capacity on St. Thomas to support long-term growth; something that the cruise line industry has been requesting for years. More dock capacity has the added benefit of being a capital project that would create jobs and allow for long term berthing agreements with the cruise lines.
• Implementing water transportation similar to that in St. Martin. This would be transformative, allowing customers to shop longer, generating more retail sales, increased commission for employees, and more gross receipt tax for the government.
• Finally, act on the Barker Reform Bill. Senator O’Reilly took a stand for the barkers who are not licensed, pay no taxes, and many who are only here seasonally. The senator also stated that she did not care about the barker issue because it was not a St. Croix concern.
• To be sure, there are also many projects on St. Croix that, if initiated, would go a long way to improving the overall economy as well. We ask the Senate to pass a Barker Reform Bill and for the administration to implement water transportation and complete the long-awaited Main Street enhancements (as well as opening Fort Christian). This will help move the territory back to more prosperous times.
In the meantime, we respectfully ask that there be no more insults and no more taxes; only collaboration and creative solutions.
St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce