Editor’s note: This letter was submitted prior to Senate President Novelle Francis withdrawing a proposed online tax bill following public outcry. At the time, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. had voiced support for the bill, which had not yet been introduced on the floor.

Dear Editor,

The power to tax includes the power to destroy. The fourth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, said this in 1819, and its effect is as true today as it was then.

Bill 33-0330, to be introduced next month and which seeks to impose a 2% Gross Receipts Tax on companies not located in the territory but do business through online platforms such as Amazon and Walmart, supports this marginal theory. The measure — supported by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and which will be introduced next month by Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. — in my opinion, is flawed and should bring pause to the electorate of these Virgin Islands. It is my hope that Sen. Francis, as well as the additional 14 members of the Legislature, rise to the occasion in doing the job that we the people elected them to do. The job entails creating revenue generating legislation designed to diversify not only our local economy, but rather position the Virgin Islands as a competitor and an attractive locale amongst big name retailers, all while diversifying our investment portfolio.

What I do not appreciate is the senator’s spin on words, designed to confuse the people as to the bills intent and long term effects. The citizens of this territory will be at a huge disadvantage as any fees imposed on internet retailers, Gross Receipt Taxes or its likeness would be, in turn, transferred back to the local consumer.

Specifically, at a time where procuring goods on island is close to obsolete due to the lack of supply not meeting demand, the “bill” mentioned $50 million in revenues for the Government Employees’ Retirement System. Where is the data to support such a figure and/or revenue generation? Virgin Islanders would have to spend at minimum $2.5 billion through online retailers to, in return, generate $50 million in Gross Receipt Taxes. Fifty million seems to be the magic number as that was the same figure quoted when the current administration proposed going to the bond market with our reserve dollars. It’s time that we design and formulate data-driven policies based on metrics for this territory and stop relying on impulse and emotion to drive our decision making.

The first step in doing so is to manage our portfolios accordingly — aggressively collect on our outstanding debts and stop trying to generate funds on the backs of the people by way of taxes.

In the middle of a global pandemic the idea of imposing additional taxes on the people, while the government currently owes the people income tax returns, in my estimation, is criminal! A proactive, democratic approach would entail lobbying said retailers to consider the U.S. Virgin Islands as “domestic,” as it relates to shipping, as opposed to “international,” thus saving the consumer on shipping fees. It’s call economics 101. The Virgin Islands does not have a money problem, we have a money management problem.

— Jelani Ritter resides on St. Croix.