Fewer government employees won’t necessarily shrink the dollars headed towards the government’s pension system, Gov. Albert Bryan said Friday during a Pen and Pad news conference at Government House on St. Croix.
During the sit-down with local media, Bryan referred to the Senate backlash on his administration’s budget outline at a June 5 hearing. Senators were concerned that the reduced budget was a result of cutting down on the number of government employees.
He also discussed openings at the top of the V.I. Port Authority and the West Indian Co., Ltd.
GERS – It’s About a Lack of Money
The main concern about the Government Employees Retirement System was that fewer employees would mean less contributions to GERS. But according to Bryan, that’s not the case.
“The GERS is not hurt because of lack of people. It’s hurting because of lack of money,” he said Friday.
The retirement system, which faces a $3 billion unfunded liability, serves roughly 8,760 retirees and pensioners and approximately 9,368 active members.
According to Bryan, adding new employees means creating new future retirees who will eventually draw down the system’s funds. The salary of one new employee is equivalent to four contributions that the government could make as direct cash infusions instead, he explained.
“Why would we hire somebody, create a liability of that person retiring and then only put one-third of that money towards the payroll?” Bryan asked.
As far as the legislature and anyone else is concerned, he said, the focus should be on the government “contributing more dollars” to the system without burdening it with more employees that it would eventually have to pay retirement to in the future.
“It’s a much more efficient way to solve the GERS problem,” he said.
Friday’s Pen and Pad was the first of a series of conferences designed to create conversation between the governor, his administration and the news media on targeted topics. This event focused on the governor’s budget plan for the territory.
VIPA: Governor Would Be Happy to See Dowe Return
Although the Virgin Islands Port Authority board has yet to make a decision on a new executive director, Gov. Bryan said Friday he’d be happy to see former VIPA head Carlton Dowe return.
In 2016, Dowe was ousted under former Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s administration. Mapp’s brother, David Mapp, subsequently replaced him.
“Everybody knows he was booted for politics,” Bryan said Friday during the news conference at Government House on St. Croix. “So I would be happy to see him come back.”
The VIPA position is vacant again, and Bryan said he knew that Dowe was a finalist.
However, the decision is ultimately up to the VIPA board. Bryan said he has no say on that board.
Reports indicate that while he headed VIPA from 2013 to 2016, Dowe improved the territory’s bond rating, settled union contracts that had been pending for a decade, secured a 10-year agreement with a major cruise line, secured grant money for the Schooner Bay Channel dredging project on St. Croix, and successfully raised fees.
On Friday, the governor said he was chairman of VIPA’s personnel committee when Dowe was hired the first time, and he was impressed.
“People talk, but I was in the interview,” Bryan said. “He blew everybody away – at least at that time. I can’t imagine that he would be worse this time.”
With plans for development of the territory’s airports and seaports underway, a position for Dowe at VIPA would be a win, according to the governor.
WICO Vacancy After Graham Fired
The governor also spoke briefly on the West Indian Company’s recent decision to fire WICO President Clifford Graham for cause. Earlier this month, WICO Board Chair and Tourism Commissioner designee Joseph Boschulte confirmed that Graham had been terminated but didn’t give details on why. The governor didn’t give much more of an explanation on Friday, only adding that the termination was unexpected and that the WICO board will look for the best replacement.
“This issue with Mr. Graham came out of nowhere. It’s a disciplinary issue that WICO is dealing with,” Bryan said. “We did not expect that so we’re gonna be looking for the best person to fill that position.”
Bryan also said that Boschulte told him that he was not interested in returning to WICO. Boschulte, Graham’s predecessor as WICO president, is slated to be sworn in as tourism commissioner Monday, a post he has held for some time in an acting capacity.
As the chairman of the Public Finance Authority, the governor will have a say in who takes Graham’s seat at WICO.
WICO Paying Governor’s Rent on St. Thomas
In response to questions on why it was necessary for WICO to pay the rent for his condo on St. Thomas, Bryan said it was traditional for the governor’s rent to be covered. He suggested that the $3,500 the cruise company is paying for his rent is more reasonable than what it’s had to pay for others in the past.
“The alternative is to pay the hotel room in St. Thomas $10,000 a month at the rate that I stay, so whatever it is, it’s gonna cost the taxpayers money,” he said. “I surely don’t think they expect me to pay for my room when I go to St. Thomas.”
Bryan also said that WICO won’t pay his rent forever. Efforts are being made to restore the historic Danish building at Estate Catherineberg. (See Editor’s Note)
WICO is a government-owned entity that self-governs and generates its own revenue.
WICO Paying Boschulte About $1,500 Per Meeting
Asked why WICO pays Boschulte about $1,500 per meeting as board chair, Bryan said it was normal for corporations to pay people up to $100,000 a year to serve on boards. He also said that the payment has been the same for years and his administration made no changes.
“The payment at WICO has been the same for at least the last 12 years,” he said. “We didn’t raise it; that’s the way it is.”
Boschulte will also earn a salary as Tourism commissioner.
Editor’s Note: There is no legal basis for the tradition of a governor staying at Estate Catharineberg or for the cruise company paying rent. Govs. Roy Lester Schneider and Charles W. Turnbull are the only governors to reside at the property since the 1860s. V.I. law specifies the governor will reside at Government House on St. Thomas.