Senator Craig Barshinger Answers St. John Tradewinds’ Questionnaire


Senator Craig Barshinger


Editor’s Note: This questionnaire was sent out to both of the Senator at Large candidates, incumbent Senator Craig B

arshinger and No Party Candidate Wilma Marsh Monsanto. Only Barshinger responded.

TW: If elected Senator at Large what would be your number one priority?

CB: For all islands, creating transparency in the Legislature. There are presently no systems to ensure that money is spent properly. Under the “smokescreen,” there has been more than $6.9 million in misspending, including pilfering. I propose to publish the expenses of the Legislature monthly on a website.
The public would be able to scrutinize the expenditures, while the 15 Legislators can focus on solving the problems facing the territory. The costly and unreliable energy supplied by WAPA is one example of a fixable problem.

TW: What do you see as the biggest issue facing St. John residents today? How would you address this issue?

CB: The threat of exorbitant property taxes looms over the heads of all St. Johnians. Our fellow Virgin Islanders on St. Thomas and St. Croix labor under the misconception that we are an island of millionaires. Our Governor and Lt. Governor have publicly perpetuated this myth.
We know that the truth is that St. John residents incur higher costs for food, transportation, and virtually every commodity. While we are grateful for the several millionaires who call St. John home, the vast majority of St. John residents struggle with our higher costs and modest pay. St. John cannot and must not be singled out to pay more than their fair share. (See below for more on this issue.)
Another critical issue is ferry fares. Six dollars is too much. It heightens the barrier between St. John residents and St Thomas. Two dollars would be reasonable. Everywhere from Seattle to Vieques, bridges and water transportation is subsidized, by local and Federal funds.
I introduced legislation to set the rate at $2, and change the PSC’s role from setting the fare to determining the size of the necessary ferry company subsidy. I didn’t get sufficient support from testifiers to convince my colleagues to support the legislation the first time around. I would like to try again if the support is there.
TW: What qualifications or characteristics do you have which would make you the best person to represent St. John as Senator at Large?

CB: I am experienced yet retain my idealism and integrity. In my three terms as your Senator at Large, I have been in the majority half the time and the non-majority half the time. I have chaired two different committees.
Another fact to point out is that I actually live on St. John, fulfilling the requirement of being a bona fide resident. (I’m not sure how many nights per year the other candidate spends on St. John: having an address is not the same as being a bona fide resident.) He who feels it, knows it. You have to live on St. John to fully appreciate our needs.

TW: Property taxes are a serious concern for many St. John residents. How would you address the property tax issue on St. John?

CB: As those who have followed the issue know, I persuaded Governor deJongh to return to the affordable 1998 taxation levels, thus averting a crisis caused by the fatally flawed Bearing Point property revaluations. The property tax legislation passed in the 27th Legislature (while I was out) is unfair for St. John.
Crafting a property tax system that is fair and workable for the entire territory is a big job. I have therefore formulated an advisory committee on each of the three islands to help craft a proper tax system.
The St. John committee has met, and the two St. Thomas/St. John senators who are eligible for reelection on November 6 are in accord with this approach. It is my intention to bring this to fruition early next year before the next crisis arises.
The executive branch has engaged DeLoitte & Touch, (Bearing Point with another name!) to perform the next revaluations. I will be watchdogging carefully, as the last round the V.I. Government spent over $8 million on mass appraisal revaluations that were fatally flawed.

TW: As far as infrastructure on St. John, what do you see as the most pressing needs on St. John and how do you propose to meet those needs?

CB: Roads need to be fixed and properly marked. Particularly those damaged by Tropical Storm Otto.
The Traditional Vendors Plaza plan, which is funded by the St. John Capital Improvement Fund and designed with the help of St. John vendors, is underway. My office will continue to push this. (Even after a bill is passed, it often takes weekly follow up to make sure anything gets done.)
The 150 parking spaces by the Enighed Pond seem to be working out, and thus the pressure to create the multi-level car park has diminished. We can still create the multi-level car park and in fact there is an appropriation to get started with it, subject to public interest.
The Pine Peace basketball court repairs have been funded by the Legislature and Public Works claims that the work is imminent.
The 170-acre Coral Bay “Central Park” is a wonderful investment for our future, with historical ruins, walking and biking trails, and recreational facilities. It could even contain senior housing. It cannot be created after Coral Bay development accelerates, it must be fulfilled now.
We have appropriated $4 million. The Forest Legacy partner did not come through, so we are looking for another philanthropic conservancy organization to fill this role.
Stuart Smith, the St. John Planner, has been “reassigned” to the St. Thomas CZM director’s position. This is not satisfactory. On this count and many others, St. John’s assets have been raided by our executive branch during the recent financial crisis. St. John needs a planner.
The Legislature is the First Branch of Government, which 1) passes laws, 2) authorizes spending, and 3) exercises oversight of the laws and spending. The Governor, our Chief Executive, is responsible for executing the laws and policies we pass, and for spending the money we authorize. These roles have become seriously askew in the last two years.