The Legislature is preparing to host Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. Monday night for his fourth State of the Territory Address, which – along with the Government House Facebook page and access channel 27 – will be available for viewing on the V.I. Source’s Facebook page beginning at 7 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time.
With the governor rounding out his first term in office, he is expected to give an overview of his accomplishments over the past four years, which will be illustrated, according to Government House, with an enhanced viewing of the speech, including charts, statistics, and data of the administration’s policies and work.
Last year, the State of the Territory encompassed a look forward to 2022, with the governor building on disaster recovery accomplishments and COVID-19 response efforts, both of which have included over the past months the build-out of several capital projects – including the completion and unveiling of the Veteran’s Drive project – and an enhanced travel portal, along with the return of cruise ships to port and an influx of federal dollars coming in.
With increased scrutiny – particularly by the V.I. Senate – over how those dollars are spent, it is expected that Bryan will take time in his address to outline, in particular, the rebuilding of homes and repairs through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority’s disaster recovery programs, along with projects delineated by recent grant awards for local infrastructure – including the rebuilding of schools – improvements to health care systems and facilities, roads and other priorities as specified in his “top 100.”
With V.I. public school students returning to in-person learning Monday, the address is also expected to take a look at the overall system and either plans to embrace new paradigm shifts – such as the launch of a new virtual school – or initiatives meant to shore up achievement gaps brought upon by nearly two years of remote learning and ways to further incorporate technology into the classrooms.
The governor and his fiscal team have thrice attempted to get passed a proposal to save the ailing Government Employees’ Retirement System, the most recent at the end of December, which was done in collaboration with the Senate, the GERS board, and the system’s actuary, among others.
“The legislation will allow for the refinancing and restructuring of a significant portion of the debt of the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) at current market interest rates, to free up critically needed revenues to stabilize the GERS. The GERS is forecast to become insolvent within the next few years, and the proposed legislation should finally address a problem that has vexed the territory for years,” the governor said in his transmittal letter to Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory.
The legislation creates a new entity called the “Matching Fund Special Purpose Securitization Corporation,” which will be a legally created entity separate from the government.
That corporation will issue bonds to enable the Public Finance Authority to restructure the outstanding matching fund bonds issued by the PFA in order to free up resources to be applied to the restoration of solvency to GERS without having to reduce benefits. More on that proposal and its impact should be points of focus in Monday’s address, along with an update on the development of the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act, which Bryan and senators – after a trip to Colorado last year – have said needs reworking but could provide a tangible new form of revenue for the territory.
Last year’s speech ended with a focus on crime and, after a recent Senate hearing, the governor’s team indicated that the announcement of a Director of Gun Violence Prevention should be forthcoming. That individual is meant to head a newly created Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Office of the Governor that was set up through legislation passed by the Senate last June and is set to receive $2 million over the next two years for operations.
Since then, Bryan, in conjunction with Police Commissioner Ray Martinez, has announced a partnership with the National Network for Safe Communities, along with cross-training for officers and officials that are meant to support both the program’s goals and the National Network’s strategies.
The territory ended 2021 with 45 homicides and was up to four as of Sunday evening.