The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves and where they stand on some of the most pressing issues of the day. You can see all the candidates’ responses and more election news here.
Alma Francis Heyliger currently works at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands in the MIS Division. She has worked with former Senators Lorraine L. Berry and Donald Cole. Alma also is a radio host for approximately 20 years as well as a community activist. Her current show is geared towards public policy, politics, and the community. She graduated high school on St. Thomas and is a member of various non-profit organizations and boards. She is running as an independent to represent St. Thomas/St. John.
Here are the responses from Francis Heyliger:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Francis Heyliger: To execute the mandate of the People of the Virgin Islands as it relates to crafting legislation and supporting policy to attain greater transparency. Some of the main priorities will be the tackling of GERS, dealing with rebuilding our economy, reducing crime as well as working on laws that will aide in the health and wellness of our residents.
The V.I. government had ongoing deficits before the pandemic hit and now faces a sharp loss in revenue due to a significant decrease in tourism. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first?
Francis Heyliger: As of right now, the government is already functioning on a reduced budget due to the coronavirus. As the physical year has just begun, this new budget that came into effect on October 1, 2020, has been reduced by millions of dollars. During this time we have to work on looking at this pandemic and seeing what new industries can become part of our community. Utilize the EDA program to help us diversify our revenue-generating streams in hopes that we will get back to some stabilized economic form shortly.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Francis Heyliger: One of the things that can be done is more exposure as it relates to the government’s website that lists its expenditures. This website shows how peoples’ money is spent. I think more promotion of this site as well as making sure the information is updated regularly will help the people know what’s going on with their money as well as see glaring issues that could be fixed before they get out of hand.
The V.I. Legislature has on many occasions enacted unfunded mandates, from mandatory swimming classes or the unfunded Durant Tower project in Frederiksted, that never occur due to the lack of funding. Will you vote for mandates that government officials have testified require funding that is not provided in the legislation?
Francis Heyliger: Any legislation I vote in favor of must not only be in the best interest of the people but also come with a funding source attached if funds are required. Creating feel-good legislation that may never see the light of day because of lack of funding to me is irresponsible.
The territory has around 120 boards and commissions at present, most of which are unable to make quorums and many, like the Civil Rights Commission, the Maritime Academy Board, the Commission on Caribbean Cooperation and the V.I. Wage Board, have not operated in many years. Would you ever vote to create another board or commission and if so, under what circumstances?
Francis Heyliger: Only if necessary, if a board/commission does not exist and one is needed, with the right regulations in place I would vote in favor. I also believe that some of the existing boards/commissions need to be reviewed and see which ones can be eliminated and/or consolidated. For a territory of about 105,000 people that amount of boards/commissions seems exorbitant.
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 2024?
Francis Heyliger: I don’t believe it will be a one quick fix situation when it comes to GERS. I believed that streams of revenues from various sources must be created and/or identified so that pockets of solvency can exist to save the GERS System. I also see that the austerity measures and cost reductions implemented by the government during the covid-19 pandemic, that once we are back online and revenues begin to flow again that a portion of those savings can be directed to GERS.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Francis Heyliger: Medicinal marijuana is already law. The Senate has done its part thus far to set up the guidelines, rules, and regulations through legislation. I believe it is now up to the executive branch to execute those laws and do their part in sending down all needed nominees for the board as well as once the board is filled with at least a quorum, they start getting the job done with making sure medicinal marijuana comes online in our territory.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Francis Heyliger: I believe many factors fuel crime in our territory. The lack of education, lack of a moral compass, social-economic issues, poverty, lack of some law enforcement needed tools, and a slew of other things. To help alleviate crime it will take the entire community’s participation. The reintroduction of community policing in high crime areas, the introduction of conflict resolution classes in our schools, the enforcement of truancy laws, the funding of organizations that assist with curtailing crimes are just a few things I see that can be done with crime reduction. As an elected official I will do my best to make sure these areas are not only a priority but they are funded as well.
Climate change is a growing threat to Virgin Islanders with a myriad of effects ranging from an increase in tropical storms to more severe health issues as a result of warming temperatures. What types of policies will you support to educate the community on the risks of climate change and to increase the territory’s preparation and mitigation efforts?
Francis Heyliger: I will support policies that aides in the education of our populous as it relates to climate change. Unfortunately, the education of our people as it relates to this subject is lacking and as a Senator, I know the importance of being aware of our environment and the changes mother nature brings at times. It is my belief by funding public education programs and/or campaigns to assist with a better understanding of climate change will help significantly with getting the people of the virgin islands onboard.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Francis Heyliger: As an employee of the Legislature for over 21 years, I see the positive that can come about when good legislation and policy is put in place. I hope that I can use my knowledge of the institution, research capabilities, and community activism to be the pulse of the people and be their voice in the halls of this institution. I might have many things I want to do or improve but at the end of the day, it’s the mandate of the people that should come first. Listen to their wants and needs and make the best decisions on their behalf, decisions for all our prosperity, and the greater good.