All V.I. businesses may have to take credit cards if a measure sent on for a final Senate vote is enacted into law. The bill, proposed by Sen. Kurt Vialet, requires businesses to offer “at least two” methods of payment, one of which must be by credit or debit cards.
Many smaller V.I. businesses, particularly taxis, only take cash. The taxi industry in particular barely functions, with no central dispatcher and little to no service after dark to any location other than the airport. Not taking credit cards forces tourists to carry large amounts of cash. It also makes tax evasion easier.
(See: Pathetic Taxi Service is a USVI Economic Emergency)
Senators killed a bill to mandate taxis take credit cards in June. Taxi drivers opposed it.
Senators on the Rules and Judiciary Committee started their Monday meeting with six bills on the agenda, and when it was over, all six had been forwarded on to the full Senate.
One bill would add horses to the V.I. law definition of livestock. Agriculture officials oppose the change because the Agriculture Department lacks the resources to give free services to the racehorse industry.
In an earlier hearing, Sen. Allison DeGazon (D-STX) who proposed the bill, said the purpose of the proposed change is to give a benefit to horse owners and help the horse racing industry.
“What we are trying to do is economically set up ourselves and our territory to take advantage of every revenue generating opportunity federally and even locally that we can create,” DeGazon said at that earlier hearing.
On Monday, Degazon said that before she came to the hearing she spoke with a tax assessor who informed her the bill would cause minimal to no economic impact. DeGazon added the bill would create more small business opportunities within the industry and would assure that racetrack and thoroughbred owners could entice qualified veterinarians to come to the territory.
Horse racing is locally popular but generates very little revenue. It is subsidized by slot machine gambling revenues, which, while larger than horse racing, are also minuscule.
Another bill sent on for a final vote Monday would increase the number of days the Senate has to appoint members to the Legislative Youth Council to 180, up from 60. The council was created in 2011 to discuss issues of relevance to V.I. youth.
The territory has more than 115 statutory entities and frequently has difficulty finding volunteers.
One measure impacts V.I. Economic Development Authority tax breaks. Bill No. 33-0061 clarifies that language in V.I. law saying tax break applicants are “entitled to 100 percent benefits” means 100 percent of that company’s existing tax breaks. Breaks are generally capped at 90 percent breaks on income tax and 100 percent breaks on other taxes. So 100 percent of existing tax breaks would mean continuing at whatever level they already were at, probably 90 percent. It also clarifies that public hearings are mandatory before granting tax breaks and changes the way the starting date for tax breaks is determined.
Another would expand an existing program that allows hotel developers to have part of their room occupancy and/or casino taxes put aside as collateral for loans. A participating hotel would have half of their tax put into a trust fund. A hotel using this method to secure lending would see their room tax increase from 12.5 percent to 18.5 percent during the term of the loan. The hotel could then use the tax revenue to secure and pay off a renovation or reconstruction loan.
“This is just great preparation. It shows that we have went through a crisis, the hurricanes, and we learned. We are doing what we need to do to ensure that our plans for economic development are not thwarted but really remain on the same path. Any bill that seeks to expand our economic base and make it more resilient and put us in a better financial standing, I will always support,” DeGazon said.
Francis said both bills would ensure economic development and promote prosperity.
All six bills now go to the full Senate for a final vote.
Present were: Francis, Sens. Alicia Barnes (D-STX), Steven Payne (D-At Large), Kenneth Gittens (D-STX), Janelle Sarauw (I-STT) and Myron Jackson (D-STT) Non-members Degazon and Sen. Oakland Benta (D-STX) also attended. Sen. Javan James (D-STX) was absent.