What the Candidates Say: Kenneth Mapp

Gov. Kenneth Mapp at a December news conference. (File photo)
Gov. Kenneth Mapp at a December news conference. (File photo)

In this series, the Source introduces the community to the platforms of the candidates for governor and gauges their approaches to issues in the territory. The Source sent each gubernatorial team a set of questions and is running the answers in the order in which the candidates responded. The Source invites comments on these articles, in the hopes of creating a dialogue among voters. This story covers the views and planned initiatives of candidate Kenneth Mapp, the current governor, who is running for re-election as an independent.

Raised on St. Croix, Mapp has served three terms as a V.I. senator and as lieutenant governor under Gov. Roy Lester Schneider from 1995 to early 1999.

After leaving office as lieutenant governor, Mapp earned a master’s in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In 2002, Gov. Charles Turnbull appointed him director of finance and administration at the Public Finance Authority. Formerly a Republican, Mapp changed his affiliation to independent prior to 2001.

Mapp ran for governor unsuccessfully in 2006 and 2010, then won in 2014. Running mate Osbert Potter is a former three-term Senator for St. Thomas. Before being tapped as Mapp’s running mate in 2014, Potter was executive director of WTJX-TV, the territory’s PBS affiliate.

Source: The V.I. Government has a $100 million-plus annual deficit, currently cannot borrow on the private market and is not paying many of its obligations, to GERS, to WAPA, territorial nonprofits, sewage treatment contractors, trash haulers, health care contractors and more. But the Territory has never missed a debt payment on its $2 billion in debt. Half of that is secured by federal rum taxes which pay creditors before the Territory gets control of the funds and half is secured by V.I. Gross Receipts taxes which, by statute, IRB is supposed to give to a third party to pay creditors first.

How can the Territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and Government layoffs in order to pay creditors first? What is your fiscal and economic plan?

Mapp: First, it is important to note that despite last year’s devastating storms, the Virgin Islands economy and our government’s fiscal outlook remain on a positive trajectory. Our budget is balanced, our bonds have rebounded and collections are up. Private and public sector salaries are on the rise and we anticipate additional revenues generated by the reopening of the refinery and the massive reconstruction projects underway.

This question somewhat conflates the central government’s bond payment obligations of $2 billion with vendor obligations from semi-autonomous entities. For example, the obligations to WAPA, sewage treatment contractors and trash haulers are largely attributable to the hospitals and the Waste Management Authority and are not directly controlled by the central government. We have worked to support the hospitals more financially (most notably through the expansion of Medicaid) and the Waste Management Authority, but in the case of the latter it must implement tipping fees approved by the Public Services Commission almost two years ago in order to effectively sustain operations and pay vendors on time.

Next, in the past, the annual deficit has, in fact, reached over $100 million with working capital used as a basis for financing the deficit. However, we point out that the Fiscal Year 2019 budget was balanced without any deficit financing and relies solely on revenues from the burgeoning growth in our economy that will be realized over the next seven years. In order to mitigate any shortfalls, we will continue to maximize our resources and enhance our collection efforts, which began in earnest during Fiscal Year 2016. Invariably, there will be shortfalls in our conservative projections of revenues. However, we do not anticipate a shortfall that would necessitate cuts to services and government layoffs per your question. Conversely, the Virgin Islands Government continues to strengthen its workforce in order to fill long vacant positions in law enforcement, education and social services and to facilitate our recovery effort. In furtherance of our fiscal planning, when shortfalls in revenues arise, the OMB director will control expenditures by reducing allotments, as we did in early 2016 – thereby giving some consideration to paying vendors first.

Finally, as part of our fiscal planning efforts, the government will continue to reorganize, digitize and consolidate the manner in which business is currently being conducted. For example, we have introduced a plan to restructure the hospital boards and organizational management of both hospitals in an effort to eliminate duplication of costs and systems as it is not necessary to have two CEOs, two CFOs and two financial management systems for our small hospitals. A minimum of $2 million can be realized by this reorganization.

Source: Many young Virgin Islanders are seeking educational and financial opportunity outside of the territory. What plans will you execute to encourage those who remain to stay, and to get those who have left to return?

Mapp: This is one of the many areas where the Mapp-Potter Administration is rapidly moving forward. Earlier this year, I issued executive orders increasing starting salaries by about 30 percent for teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, social workers and other public sector employees. This has already helped us recruit and retain more of our best and brightest. We have engaged in social media advertising campaigns to reach out to Virgin Islanders living outside the territory regarding employment here at home. We have also worked to create new jobs in the private sector, including opportunities related to the refinery, tourism and construction. We will keep more of our talented young people here in the territory for college and beyond through the new University of the Virgin Islands tuition scholarship program, where any graduate from a Virgin Islands high school is eligible to apply for free tuition to earn a bachelor’s degree with the requirement they remain working in the territory for two years after graduation.

To address dislocation of workers, in September we received a $4,997,845 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for a Dislocated Workers Grant which will provide training and address the re-employment needs of individuals who lost their jobs due to the impact of the hurricanes.

Source: What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2023?

Mapp: We have designated for GERS half of all profits from the new refinery operations and have proposed numerous other reforms and new revenue generating and profit sharing initiatives that would inject millions into the system. $25 million dollars from Phase II of the refinery agreement will go to GERS as a down payment for the purchase of the Havensight Mall and the Port of Sale lease and we will enter into an eight percent mortgage with GERS for the balance of the cost, estimated to be about $15 million. The mall is appraised between $41 to 42 million and this mortgage will be paid over a 10-year period, providing interest to the system. WICO will manage the property and we will enter into an agreement with one of our cruise partners to rebrand and develop the mall to its fullest potential. Fifty percent of the net revenues generated at the mall, in perpetuity, will go directly to GERS while $10 million from Phase I of the refinery closing payment will be loaned to IGY to help finance a 110-room hotel at the Yacht Haven Grande property. That money gains 5.75 percent interest per year. Five percent of the hotel’s gross revenues will go to GERS and seven percent – if the hotel is sold – will go to GERS. However, it requires changes to our laws for the comprehensive reforms necessary and, to date, the Legislature has not enacted the measures we have proposed nor introduced any of its own. Experts say the refinery revenues alone would extend the life of GERS by five years and that the Mapp-Potter Administration is the first to support a plan that would enhance GERS’ solvency at that level.

Source: How will you help make Government more transparent?

Mapp: This administration continues to be open to answering all questions from the media at frequent news conferences and has recently launched a website where the public can track the spending of recovery funds. We established the USVI Hurricane Recovery site through the PFA to provide the public with data on federal funding awarded to the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist in its response, recovery and resiliency from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Information about various grants, programs and resources available to the territory and awards to date are available. We also requested and received federal support for an Office of Accountability where local and federal officials, the media and the public can remain informed about projects and spending.

Some of our laws must be amended for more clarity in terms of what data can be legally released. For example, not all personnel records qualify as public information.

Source: How do you feel about legalization of marijuana and why?

Mapp: As I have said on many occasions, I will support comprehensive legislation put before me for the decriminalization of both medical and recreational marijuana as a matter of both compassion and common sense. Appropriate safeguards are obviously required, but we must also include mechanisms to revisit the cases of those convicted of marijuana-related offenses. Further, it is essential that all laws protect the business interests of our local growers and processors. If this is to provide economic opportunity – it must be to our farmers first.

Source: What can you as an elected official do to help alleviate violent crime in the territory?

Mapp: Crime dropped by 30 percent overall this year with a decrease in reported robbery, arson and aggravated assault. In the first half of 2018, reported robbery went down by 67 percent, from 55 incidents to 18. Reported aggravated assault was slashed in half, from 297 cases to 152. Homicides, most commonly with no witnesses willing to talk and little evidence, are suspected retaliation related to ongoing feuds between groups of young people. Effective policing will help, but prevention is the real answer. Therefore, we will implement more crime prevention programs for youth. I will not rest until we all feel safer in our communities. New training for police officers and detectives at top-of-the-line academies, new technology and tools and a significant uptick in salaries and morale have all contributed to improved public safety. We will also continue to work to address some of the root causes of crime and violence such as lack of educational and economic opportunities.

Source: How do you see your role in overseeing government agencies?

Mapp: Lt. Governor Osbert Potter and I see our role as being ultimately responsible for all local government operations and we have never shirked that responsibility. It’s our job to ensure services are delivered to the people of this territory. While we took over a broke and – in many respects – broken government, we have methodically worked to resolve long standing problems in every agency. We have much more work ahead, but there is no question that we have made significant progress.

Source: Why are you running and why should voters choose you instead of another candidate?

Mapp: We are running because we believe in the limitless potential of the United States Virgin Islands and in our ability to continue to propel this territory and its people forward. We have worked hard and can stand firmly on the proof of our ability and commitment rather than on empty promises: private and public sector salaries are up; 20,000 more Virgin Islanders are now eligible for health care; the refinery is now set to hire 1,200 temporary and 700 permanent workers; USVI bonds have rebounded and efforts are currently underway to transform our electric grid, harbors, ports and roads. We have worked to get funding approved for four new schools, new hospitals and other public buildings.

Continuity of leadership has never been more important as we embark on this complex, multi-layered $8.5 billion recovery. The relationships and partnerships we have fostered are unique and have heightened the national profile of the Virgin Islands. We have an incredible amount of infrastructure on the table right now and any disruption risks setting our recovery and rebuild plans back by years. We are rebuilding stronger and smarter; and we are, without question, moving forward.

Source: What will you do to mitigate the effects of climate change on the territory?

Mapp: On taking office, I established the Office of Climate Change, which recently expanded to include a council of experts actively working to develop strategies to mitigate damage from rising sea levels and future storms. The council is hosting its inaugural meeting this month. Additionally, climate change was a focus of our Hurricane Resiliency Task Force and we will be implementing many of the advisory group’s recommendations. You can read more about the success of the Task Force and how our plans to introduce more solar and wind renewables will lower VI energy bills (while reducing carbon emissions) in the October 14, 2018, edition of USA Today.

Source: What is your plan to improve the schools and the quality of public education in the territory?

Mapp: We are actively addressing the two biggest challenges faced by our schools – a shortage of qualified teachers and a crumbling infrastructure. We have raised base salaries for teachers by $10,000 and recently ratified contracts with the American Federation of Teachers that should go a long way toward retaining and recruiting our educators. We knew new schools were necessary prior to the storms, but the damage wrought by the hurricanes has made the total reconstruction of multiple campuses a higher priority. Our first major project following the initial disaster response was to go through every classroom with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Through this process we have, thus far, been successful in obtaining funding to build four new state-of-the-art schools. We will be using additional funds to make major improvements to our remaining campuses and to institute the modern facilities required to keep our students engaged.

Source: How will you ensure that adequate funding is put toward healthcare services in the territory?

Mapp: Our hospitals and clinics, and even some private doctors, have already realized a great savings in the cost of uncompensated care since we successfully negotiated for 20,000 more Virgin Islanders to be eligible for Medicaid. Covering health care costs for uninsured patients has, more than anything else, kept our hospitals in the red and now, when uninsured patients go to the emergency room, they are encouraged to sign up for Medicaid. This means the hospitals can be reimbursed for the cost of their care and can reinvest those monies in the infrastructure. Normally, the local government would also pay a share, but because of the disasters we sought a two-year waiver so the federal government is covering 100 percent of the cost of patient care while we rebuild. New and more efficient facilities will help us realize further cost savings. Additionally, we have already designated more money for salaries to include nurses, EMTs and other vital support staff. We are also implementing plans to maximize the use of federal health care funds in many areas and to avoid the return of federal dollars.

Editor’s note: While most of the questions are identical for all the candidates, due to an error on our part, Mapp received a slightly different set of questions than other candidates. In the interest of informing our readers, we are including Mapp’s responses to some questions the other gubernatorial candidates did not receive.