The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution urging Gov. Albert Bryan and Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett to seek a portion of the federal excise tax paid on gasoline produced in the territory, which Sen. Novelle Francis estimated amounts to about $1 billion.
Sen. Stedmann Hodge proposed Bill No. 33-0052, a resolution asking the governor and delegate to join the 33rd Legislature in pursuing the return of taxes collected by the federal government on gasoline produced in the territory.
“It’s owed to us, it’s due to us, and we want to work towards ensuring that it is returned to us,” Francis said during the meeting of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary on Wednesday.
The measure is not the first time the Virgin Islands Legislature attempted to get the federal government to return what lawmakers believe belongs to the government of the Virgin Islands.
Sen. Myron Jackson said it was some years ago when they addressed “this particular issue, and of course the revisal of the Organic Act of 1954 requires that an excise tax be collected on articles coming to the United States from the Virgin Islands. As a result of that, over $1 billion has been collected by the federal government from the gasoline that was produced right here in the U.S.V.I. on the island of St. Croix.”
Jackson said the bill had been the subject of a court hearing and was left in the court of appeals for the District of Columbia, and has been there ever since.
“This is the time to act, given that we have a $2.3 billion deficit, as the resolution outlines, and the unfunded mandates that are required by the federal government by this territory. We would be prudent to do what is required,” he said.
Efforts by previous Legislatures were delayed because of changes within the Senate and what Congress said was “ambiguous language” in regards to the Organic Act of 1954, Francis said.
“However, if we are lockstep in moving this measure forward, I believe we can get the support that is required so that we can see some reimbursement in some of the gasoline excise tax coming to this territory,” he said.
Francis said a billion dollars could be used in the territory to benefit islanders. Production of gasoline in the territory has contributed to illnesses among some residents, whether or not it’s going to be admitted. With the refinery at Lime Tree Bay Terminal getting ready to open and begin refining again, the time to act in now, he said.
Francis likened the federal excise tax on gasoline to the way the territory’s rum revenues are dealt with. The USVI receives an estimated $258 million annually based on the amount of rum exported from the island to the U.S. from its distillers – Diageo and Cruzan. Francis said the territory should also be collecting excise tax on the barrels of oil produced over the years.
“We have contributed gasoline and should be compensated. We are seeking to get reimbursed as well for those years prior to the Lime Tree Bay refining that occurred during the Hovensa, Hess and number of refineries that were established here in the Virgin Islands on St. Croix.”
Sen. Janelle Sarauw, chairwoman of the Rules and Judiciary Committee, said the people of the territory have sacrificed their families and their health and it was only fitting that they stand as a unified government in petitioning the Congress to pursue the return of a portion of the gasoline excise tax collected by the federal government.
Sarauw said as a colonized territory, there comes a point when you have to stand up and say to the federal government, “No, you can’t take everything from us.” She said she was tired of coming to Congress and begging for this and pleading for that.
“If anyone is listening, the territories need your help,” Sarauw said. “The five million people that live in the United States empire outside of the 50 states need your assistance on matters such as this. The era and time of colonization is gone, and America should not even be in possession of territories. So, I hope that Congress hears our plea, hears our cry straight from our lips to their ears and that they vote in the affirmative of returning a portion of our gasoline excise tax.”
The bill was moved by Francis, seconded by Jackson and voted to move forward to the full Senate by all five senators present. Those present for the vote were Sens. Francis, Jackson, Sarauw, Javan James, and Kenneth Gittens. Sens. Alicia Barnes and Steven Payne were absent.