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HomeCommentaryOpen forumOpen forum: State of the Territory Address Was Really About Change

Open forum: State of the Territory Address Was Really About Change

The logo of the flag of the U.S. Virgin Islands (file photo)

Even though no reference was made by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. in his two-hour address regarding the much touted ‘Change Course Now,’ his third state of the territory was really all about change, its likely impact on the community and the path ahead that he has set as he and his team seek to maneuver and unfold it within the coming months. As expected, the Covid-19 pandemic took the center stage during the Governor’s State of [the Territory] Address which was given on January 25, 2021. The wearing of masks, the ‘stay at home’ order, Covid-19 testing and vaccinations, the Cares Act and the funding associated with it were all mentioned as positive moves that were designed to, in the Governor’s words, “Stabilize the government.”

Included in the Governor’s stability plan were a number of important issues that the people of the USVI face along with solutions to them and some much-needed information regarding the risks ahead for him and for his team as he moved to turn some of the risks into VI streets of adventure and prosperity. “My job is to create stability in government and to chart a course for progress ahead of petty politics,” the Governor said.

Some of the highlights of the Governor’s speech included an initiative that called for virtual learning, a digital approach to this and the likely impact that this would have on remote teaching. It was at this stage that the teachers of the year in the USVI were mentioned along with the part that they were playing and the fact that some thirteen hundred checks would soon be distributed to them for their efforts. It is worth noting that this re-organizing of the stability of government really follows a three-year gap in momentum that was caused by hurricanes Maria and Irma and now Covid-19. Schools are still negatively affected by the storms and Covid-19 and so too are things like the employment status of many, and matters relating to their health, welfare and general security.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” were the words of Albert Einstein, and if ever there was a time when that saying had some truth in it was when the Governor offered a long list of his ‘on the go’ things. The ‘on the go list’ included the opening of Limetree, the opening of the new Juan Luis Modular Hospital, the Telehealth Act, the housing development program at Estate Donoe on St. Thomas, the curtailment of the tourism industry, the EDA’s 2040 Vision plan, road repairs, Tax Refunds, the RT Park, Industrial Hemp, the expansion of the airports on St. Thomas and on St. Croix, the mergers of WICO and the West Indian Company and that of the VI Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services, to name a few.

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While these will, without doubt, help to stabilize the government services on offer and the functions of government in general they may do little to ward off what can only be described as the impending budget shortfall that is likely to raise its ugly head in 2021 and beyond. True, there has been a lot of monies coming in from FEMA to, in some ways, help to rebuild the USVI nation. It is also true but that tied into those dollar gift plans are management procedures and lists of assurances that the USVI will be able to make its 10 percent contributions to FEMA when the time comes for that. Of course, not all of the funding being provided calls for contributions from the USVI.

Currently, WAPA is expecting to replace aging generators and to become a part of a $742 million dollar mitigation project which is set to begin in February of this year. While it is not known at this stage if this mitigation plan would result in the lowering of WAPA bills it looks from all appearances that this is likely to take place in the future.

Other issues like the GERS still remain on the table as well as the horse-racing concerns, school repairs, the Paul E. Joseph stadium and the plans to beef up the VIPD to address the gun violence and the crime that exists within the community. If there was ever a time when the Governor was very firm in his approach during the address it was when he dealt with the horse racing matter. He began by referring to the enforcement of an agreement that was made in 2016 and one that called for a unified racing industry on St. Thomas and on St. Croix. “I will not be bullied,” he said after indicating that the matter was, where it belonged at present, in mediation. He also said that he will continue to do his best to protect the best interests of the Virgin Islands government and the people that he serves.

Not everyone was pleased with the Governor’s address. Some thought that he spent too much time on Covid-19, while others said that they really didn’t see the detailed outline of a plan needed to help the community move forward. Some had reservations as to whether the payment of Retro to the retirees over 65 would really take place or the refunds, for that matter, of the $37 million dollars that is owed to the active workers as a part of the 8 percent cut that they received some years ago.

Be that as it may, there is little doubt that there are many challenges ahead for the Governor, and indeed, for people that he serves. For his part, the course ahead that has been selected is one of persistence and one in which he is willing to seek support from the 34th Legislature, his team members, the Federal Partners, the president of the United States (Joe Biden), the Delegate to Congress (Stacey Plaskett), the Democratic party as a whole and the people of the USVI in general.  The relaxed smile on the Governor’s face at the end of the address and the resilience that he projected throughout the speech really seemed to show that he not only values teamwork, but recognizes as well, that while persistence is high on his list of priorities, just as important, is an appreciation of the fact that we are all in this together!

Abdul R. Ali of St. Thomas

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The logo of the flag of the U.S. Virgin Islands (file photo)
Even though no reference was made by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. in his two-hour address regarding the much touted ‘Change Course Now,’ his third state of the territory was really all about change, its likely impact on the community and the path ahead that he has set as he and his team seek to maneuver and unfold it within the coming months. As expected, the Covid-19 pandemic took the center stage during the Governor’s State of [the Territory] Address which was given on January 25, 2021. The wearing of masks, the ‘stay at home’ order, Covid-19 testing and vaccinations, the Cares Act and the funding associated with it were all mentioned as positive moves that were designed to, in the Governor’s words, “Stabilize the government.” Included in the Governor’s stability plan were a number of important issues that the people of the USVI face along with solutions to them and some much-needed information regarding the risks ahead for him and for his team as he moved to turn some of the risks into VI streets of adventure and prosperity. “My job is to create stability in government and to chart a course for progress ahead of petty politics,” the Governor said. Some of the highlights of the Governor’s speech included an initiative that called for virtual learning, a digital approach to this and the likely impact that this would have on remote teaching. It was at this stage that the teachers of the year in the USVI were mentioned along with the part that they were playing and the fact that some thirteen hundred checks would soon be distributed to them for their efforts. It is worth noting that this re-organizing of the stability of government really follows a three-year gap in momentum that was caused by hurricanes Maria and Irma and now Covid-19. Schools are still negatively affected by the storms and Covid-19 and so too are things like the employment status of many, and matters relating to their health, welfare and general security. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity,” were the words of Albert Einstein, and if ever there was a time when that saying had some truth in it was when the Governor offered a long list of his ‘on the go’ things. The ‘on the go list’ included the opening of Limetree, the opening of the new Juan Luis Modular Hospital, the Telehealth Act, the housing development program at Estate Donoe on St. Thomas, the curtailment of the tourism industry, the EDA’s 2040 Vision plan, road repairs, Tax Refunds, the RT Park, Industrial Hemp, the expansion of the airports on St. Thomas and on St. Croix, the mergers of WICO and the West Indian Company and that of the VI Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services, to name a few. While these will, without doubt, help to stabilize the government services on offer and the functions of government in general they may do little to ward off what can only be described as the impending budget shortfall that is likely to raise its ugly head in 2021 and beyond. True, there has been a lot of monies coming in from FEMA to, in some ways, help to rebuild the USVI nation. It is also true but that tied into those dollar gift plans are management procedures and lists of assurances that the USVI will be able to make its 10 percent contributions to FEMA when the time comes for that. Of course, not all of the funding being provided calls for contributions from the USVI. Currently, WAPA is expecting to replace aging generators and to become a part of a $742 million dollar mitigation project which is set to begin in February of this year. While it is not known at this stage if this mitigation plan would result in the lowering of WAPA bills it looks from all appearances that this is likely to take place in the future. Other issues like the GERS still remain on the table as well as the horse-racing concerns, school repairs, the Paul E. Joseph stadium and the plans to beef up the VIPD to address the gun violence and the crime that exists within the community. If there was ever a time when the Governor was very firm in his approach during the address it was when he dealt with the horse racing matter. He began by referring to the enforcement of an agreement that was made in 2016 and one that called for a unified racing industry on St. Thomas and on St. Croix. “I will not be bullied,” he said after indicating that the matter was, where it belonged at present, in mediation. He also said that he will continue to do his best to protect the best interests of the Virgin Islands government and the people that he serves. Not everyone was pleased with the Governor’s address. Some thought that he spent too much time on Covid-19, while others said that they really didn’t see the detailed outline of a plan needed to help the community move forward. Some had reservations as to whether the payment of Retro to the retirees over 65 would really take place or the refunds, for that matter, of the $37 million dollars that is owed to the active workers as a part of the 8 percent cut that they received some years ago. Be that as it may, there is little doubt that there are many challenges ahead for the Governor, and indeed, for people that he serves. For his part, the course ahead that has been selected is one of persistence and one in which he is willing to seek support from the 34th Legislature, his team members, the Federal Partners, the president of the United States (Joe Biden), the Delegate to Congress (Stacey Plaskett), the Democratic party as a whole and the people of the USVI in general.  The relaxed smile on the Governor’s face at the end of the address and the resilience that he projected throughout the speech really seemed to show that he not only values teamwork, but recognizes as well, that while persistence is high on his list of priorities, just as important, is an appreciation of the fact that we are all in this together! Abdul R. Ali of St. Thomas