Asked by reporters at a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said he’s not willing to take a pay cut to help bridge the budget deficit, but assured residents that he anticipates generating enough new revenues to take the government through the end of the fiscal year.
Speaking at Government House on St. Thomas, Mapp said the government is expecting to bring in $36 million in new revenues through new taxes, property tax sales and a matching fund reconciliation, along with $40 million from a revenue anticipation note from Banco Popular. Through austerity measures, such as cutting government appropriations, travel and overtime pay, and instituting a hiring freeze, the government has managed to save approximately $80 million more, which Mapp said would also keep employees from being furloughed and public schools from shutting down every other Friday.
But that is only through June 30, Mapp said, adding that the government’s financial situation has to be monitored “literally every week.” The plan is to get to September, however, and Mapp explained that in the meantime, most of the sin taxes recently approved by the Legislature and signed into law will go into effect, which will generate $8 million during the period of May 1 to Sept. 30, while the Lieutenant Governor’s Office will hold two property tax sales, with the goal of raising $25 million in delinquent collections by Sept. 30.
“This $25 million will be achieved either by the payment of property taxes owed to the government, entering into a payment plan with the tax assessor, or by the sale of your property,” Mapp said. “There will be no exceptions.”
Mapp said the sales, with close to 2,000 properties listed each time, will be a mix of commercial and residential.
At this point, there is approximately a $95 million budget deficit left to fill, Mapp said.
“This is a precarious situation and we’re not on the other end of it yet, but we’re going to continue to monitor,” he said.
Mapp said that in the meantime, the government will continue to hire critical positions within the departments of Human Services ($450,000 worth) and Health ($600,000 worth,) along with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for staff needed to support the increased property tax collection and sale efforts.
Restricted use of government vehicles and cell phones will not be implemented for first responders and other such agencies, he added. Another $20 million in income tax refunds will also be paid out to keep additional interest charges from piling on. The government will be “cash managing” the income tax revenues that will begin coming in on April 15, and Mapp also said that in general, the government plans to work its way to the fiscal year 2018 budget without borrowing any more working capital.
Looking back on where the territory was from the time of his first State of the Territory Address to now, Mapp told reporters that there is nothing, in general, that he would “do over” in terms of what he or the government have spent money on. Mapp said the government was understaffed when he came in and since then, 1,600 new employees – among them police, fire fighters and corrections officers – have been added, among other things.
Asked about his personal expenses and willingness to take a pay cut, however, Mapp said he doesn’t know if he’s “willing to do that.”
“Everyone keeps asking me that question, and I suspect that question is driven on symbolism because I don’t know what you ought to pay the governor or the members of the Legislature, and I would only recommend you go to a Constitutional Convention and make that decision as a community,” Mapp said. Reflecting on when he took office, he continued, “You gave me the most broken, broke government with the most destroyed infrastructure system. I asked for the job, I’m happy to have it, but you extract about 16 to18 hours out of the day out of me and you debate with me where I eat, where I sleep, how I ride, and you expect delivery and now you come and you say, ‘Now I want you to cut your pay.’ I don’t know what the symbolism of that is, I don’t know what the reality of that is, but I thank the good Lord in heaven that it’s above my paygrade and I don’t have to take on that responsibility.”