Randolph Thomas, a government retiree, is familiar with the financial challenges the territory faces and thinks the best way to resolve them is to make “the voice of the people” heard.
Thomas is circulating a petition asking the federal government to pay what he estimates as $7 billion it owes the territory in unpaid excise taxes.
In an appeal to get people to sign the petition he wrote, “The federal government has not returned excise tax money collected on gasoline refined in the USVI between 1964 and 2012. We want it back, and we need your signature to help us get it.”
He told the Source Monday he believed the present climate was perfect to make this happen. He cited the legislature’s recent action making Juneteenth a holiday.
At this point, his petition has no official backing from government authorities, but that does not appear to bother Thomas.
“This is a democracy, and the voice of the people is the most powerful voice in a democracy,” he said.
He hopes to get 50,000 signatures on his petition.
On being contacted by the Source concerning the petition, Richard Motta, the communications director for Gov. Albert Bryan, said, “We are not officially aware of this petition, but it is the administration’s position that the federal government has a legal obligation to remit excise taxes on oil byproducts refined in the territory and exported to the United States as is done with rum distilled in the territory.”
The petition asks President Joseph Biden to sign an executive order. The executive order was drawn up by attorney and former senator Ronald Russell.
Russell has been the legal representative for GRUFF – Government Retirees United for Fairness. GRUFF sent a fact sheet supporting the petition to its members.
“As a retiree who primarily depends on my GERS pension, I have no idea how I could make ends meet given a major decrease in or loss of my annuity,” Thomas said. “I know I am not alone in this predicament. I am not aware of a single solution being put forward by our elected officials which would make a noticeable impact on the trajectory of the system.”
Predictions by the Board of Trustees of the Government Employees’ Retirement System have the system going bankrupt within three years.
The proposed executive order cites a provision of the Revised Organic Act, which presently serves as the territory’s constitution, “gives the territory the opportunity to generate income from anything manufactured in the Virgin Islands and exported to the United States of America. The oil refineries operating in St. Croix exported oil products to the United States of America and paid over $7 billion of gasoline excise tax to the federal treasury. The Virgin Islands of the United States of America is entitled to a large lump sum of money to address the environmental, health, and social issues created by oil production in the territory.”
The executive order would also, in conjunction with the Department of Interior, set up a board to receive and manage the new funds.
The petition can be found at the change.org website.
Thomas told the Source the financial issue at stake did not just concern government retirees but everyone who has an interest in the economic stability of the territory.
When he worked for the government he was director of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. During his last years in education, he led the creation and implementation of the Virgin Islands Virtual Information System.