Springer For Senate 2012 – Platform and Position Statements
By Michael J. Springer, Candidate for Senator From St. Croix, 2012
You want to know why I keep running for Senate?
Because every day our situation continues to get worse.
Unlike some others, I will not resign myself to the hopelessness that is taking over these Virgin Islands. But I understand it. Every day, instead of things getting better, they are getting worse.
So why will electing me make things any better?
First of all, I can relate to the problems we are having, because I am living them myself. I’m not one of these social climbing people who doesn’t know what it means to try to scrape out a living and raise a family when all around you things are falling apart.
I know what that’s like. I have two sons born and raised here, so I know what parents are going through. I know what happens to families when an incident like the Hovensa closing throws your life into turmoil and disrupts the most basic functions in your everyday life.
So I know the frustration of people who are trying to make it on reduced or no income, who have to face the demands of their families and other dependents when there are no solutions in sight.
So what will I do? I’ll propose to run the government finances the way we have all been forced to run our finances at home.
The first thing is to face the reality of your situation.
When the money gets tight, you cut back and stop spending. Period. That means everyone, not just the little man who is trying to survive on a government salary that has now been cut back and that may or may not even cover his electric bill.
When you’re broke, do you still go on vacation? Do you still try to maintain the luxuries? Do you continue to try to borrow money? Do you ignore the reality until one day you wake up and there’s nothing left?
No. You stop and figure out how to survive on what you have.
That’s what we need to do.
Stop the extras and cut back where we can on the basics.
Stop the traveling. Stop the expense accounts. Cut the salaries. Yes I said it. Four years ago I mounted a campaign to repeal Act 6905, that disgraceful late night sneak attack on the finances of the people of the Virgin Islands.
I said it then and I say it now. While there were some good parts of that bill that MAY have helped the failing government retirement system, the outrage was felt for the enormous salary increases and pension provisions it provided for elected officials.
Cut the salaries back to what they were before Act 6905 now. That will be the first thing I’ll push for if elected,
Then I’d approach this economy the same way we all have to approach our economies at home. Get an honest appraisal of what we have on hand; figure out accurately what we can expect to bring in from all sources; balance that against our outstanding debt – and what we have left is what there is to work with.
I’ll give this to you straight. I don’t come with a list of college degrees and initials behind my name. I respect education and those who have it, but none of that replaces common sense and a commitment to the people.
And what we need now is some common sense.
My approach to getting a handle on the economy may sound to simple but when you break through all the words and the financial jargon, that’s what it comes down to. How can anyone give you a big, blown up financial plan if we don’t know what the finances are?
Let’s talk about energy. Let’s talk about your WAPA bill.
Like it or not, we’ve got to keep WAPA running for the short term. What other option do we have? The fact that we’re no farther along in finding a solution to this problem rests solely with the politicians, who have placed politics in front of the essential need we have for clean, affordable energy.
So instead of having a workable combination of alternatives already in the works, we are now held at the mercy of the fossil fuel kings who we must rely on to supply us now that Hovensa has closed its doors.
I fought hard against the Alpine pet coke proposal for a number of reasons – the developers were unsound, the concept was unsafe and the cost benefit was unclear. But that does not mean that waste to energy, if operated correctly, cannot be one of the options we consider to solve our problem.
But in the longer term I am promoting the investigation of the use of Liquid Natural Gas as our primary energy option. Let me tell you why.
Liquid natural gas is natural gas that is turned from a vapor to a liquid for transport and then turned back into a gas when it gets to the location where it will be used. It is transported in special tankers and has to be maintained at a cold temperature in transport and in storage until it is processed back into a gas to generate energy.
This means there would have to be built cold storage facilities and processing plants in the Territory. The cost factors are in the cost of transportation of the liquid gas to the islands and then the storage and conversion plan construction and maintenance costs.
It is cheaper and cleaner than oil, but the upfront costs are a major issue for those who choose to use it. There are also some environmental concerns about sulfur emissions if the conversion process is not carefully done.
But the fact is that no energy alternative is without its risks, and careful construction, maintenance and monitoring will mitigate that risk to an acceptable level.
We must also consider other alternatives in our search for a manageable energy strategy. For example:
- Despite complaints about its consistency, I don’t believe we have fully exploited the benefits of solar energy here in the Territory; not only is it clean energy, but so many federal funding programs exist to assist individuals and businesses with the initial cash outlay required to install and maintain solar panels
- While population density may make wind energy generation an issue on St. Thomas, I feel it too is a viable alternative for St. Croix. And if land based wind towers are an issue, we need only look to the sea based wind farms in the northeastern United States to see an obvious solution to a portion of our energy problems.
My point is the solution must be multi layered and the examination of the alternatives must be removed from the political arena, where it has been stalled for the past 20 years.
Earlier I talked about Act 6905 and my efforts to get it repealed as it related to elected official salaries. The bill stayed in place. The salaries were granted. But the part of the bill that was never executed was the millions in funds that were to be borrowed to put into the Government Employees Retirement System.
Now here we are years later, and the Governor is saying again that the most recent borrowing he has asked for includes money for the GERS – the unfunded liability is now close to a billion and a half dollars. If that borrowing goes through – and who knows if it will – I as a Senator will insist that those funds go where they should – into the retirement system.
In addition, I will lobby that the government contributions to the GERS that are supposed to go into the pension fund of government workers every pay period be a line item budget mandate, so that the people who are working every day with the expectation that they will have a pension when they retire will have that benefit they have earned.
With the narrow exception of emergency services, every government agency should have a line item budget. I don’t care if the agency heads have to come to the Legislature every month to explain how they are spending the money – it’s our money and that’s what the Senate is for – to manage the finances of the Territory.
Why aren’t people working? It’s not because there is nothing to do. Roads are a shambles, guts and sewer systems are clogged; schools and other public buildings are in disrepair; the roadways look like jungles with uncut bush; hospitals need service workers – the list goes on. It all goes back to the mismanagement of our finances and the poor priorities our officials have set for the hundreds of millions of dollars that go through the Territory every year.
We have similar issues with education and crime – again, all the tools to address these problems are there, but the politics has gotten in the way of good governance.
I am not ignoring the needs of the private sector, but the reality is that the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow through the government coffers each year must be a significant part of our economic recovery in terms of sustainable job creation. This does not mean maintaining bloated department structures with outmoded methods of operation. It does mean that we must face the fact that the dissolution of the other two major employers – Hovensa through closing and Innovative through the rampant outsourcing of formerly local jobs – means that until we revive the private sector, the government can be a catalyst, if managed responsibly, for our overall recovery.
And the private sector cannot flourish until some of these public issues are solved. The small business owner is being run out of business because he can’t afford electricity from our antiquated system.
The small employer can’t find qualified people to work, because our outmoded educational system is not teaching the basic skills necessary to teach our children to count change, be responsible employees or aspire to own businesses of their own one day.
I am saying we must return to the basics and get politics out of government if we are to survive. If elected, I will do everything I can to bring forth programs and proposals that will make the best use of the resources that we have to put us back on track to be the Virgin Islands that we once knew.
Reframe, Reform and Renew the Virgin Islands. That is my pledge.
Michael J. Springer, Jr., candidate for Senator for St. Croix.
Statements On The Issues
We must consider the possibility of privatizing our next generation of energy providers and that may include private entity collaboration to upgrade what is left of WAPA. One model may be to partner with a private equity fund, as is being done in the states, which have the ability to internally source, develop, acquire, invest in, and operate large scale, natural gas power generating facilities. We must lose our fear of new approaches to this crippling problem. The cost of clinging to old ideas for new energy solutions has brought us to our current crisis. We must be willing to embrace change to survive. My long term recommendation? Liquid Natural Gas.
On Pension Reform
I would oppose pension reform that affected any provisions for existing retirees. However for existing workers, I would create the option that they could direct their pension contribution to a defined contribution (ie 401k) plan that would be matched up to a certain percentage of salary by the government. The government contribution would be in lieu of contributions to the GERS for those who chose this option. This would give existing workers the option to invest their funds as they liked among the fund choices and more control over their eventual retirement income. The Government obligation must be met in all cases. To continue the Government funding deficit, now over a billion dollars to the GERS will make discussion about pension reform moot – there will be no fund to discuss.
On Health Care
Early detection+affordable treatment = results. Preventive health education, early detection and treatment are the most accessible avenues to lower cost, higher quality health care. Routine, low cost screenings are reliable indicators for the chronic illnesses that plague Virgin Islanders, most notably diabetes and hypertension. Creating free screening opportunities through schools and community centers and defining a clear treatment path for those whose results indicate problems is the first step. We must also take our own responsibility, by monitoring our diets and exercising to maintain our health. Funding for treatment must be a priority in the allocations for health care agencies and social services organizations.
On Crime/Gun Control
The recent death by gunshot of Officer Colvin Georges, the shooting of Police Chief Charles Howell earlier this summer, and the mounting count of death and injury by gunfire in our community are a cancer we must cure. We must fight on two fronts – the guns that are already here, and the pathways the new guns take to get in. Penalties for those found with unregistered, illegal firearms must be severe and consistent. Gun toting criminals who face light sentences or probation for their acts will feel no fear of reprisal for their actions.
At the same time, we must stem the tide of weapons flowing into the Virgin Islands. Why aren’t we screening the majority of the containers that come into our ports? Objections put forth about time and expense should pale in comparison to the damage these firearms are doing in our community. A registration/follow up program that tracks all firearms that come detected into the territory will also aid in tracking where these guns go once they reach our shores. And speaking of our shores, the challenges of plugging the waterborne smuggling of weapons is a large one – but one we must attack. All efforts to engage federal assistance with shore patrols should be instigated immediately. We don’t have the financial resources or the manpower to do this effectively – but they do. So why haven’t we asked?
Our greatest source of intelligence in this battle is the community – can any one of us say we don’t know something about where guns reside and who traffics in the firearms that cause so much pain? It’s a complicated question. Recently in the crime ridden city of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for the community to “tweet” their suggestions on how to control gun violence. Is our community any less able to help tackle this challenge?
Why aren’t we training our children to do the work that exists here in the Virgin Islands? What happened to our focus on vocational training that can lead to employment for the majority of our youth? Mechanics, welders, carpenters, heating and air conditioning technicians – don’t we need them all? And why do we continue to ignore the area of greatest potential – agriculture and all its connected industries – when thinking about the training and education of our children? A combined effort of the schools, vocational programs, and the Department of Agriculture could result in finally moving the Virgin Islands from a consumption to a production economy – while providing much needed relief to all of us who are paying exorbitant prices for basic foods created by the combination of the need to export, and the cost to ship food to our community.
Audio of Issues Statements
On Pension Reform
On Health Care
On Education and Training
On Crime And Gun Control