Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three consecutive editorials on the V.I. government’s financial crisis.
Once upon a time, there was a governor who cried, “Help! Help! We have no more money! We are about to be devoured by bills and debts!”
But the people paid no attention. They had heard this cry many times before, and every time it turned out there was no true danger.
The governor grew frantic and sent out a call for everyone to pay attention.
As they looked on, he unlocked the government safe, swung open the door and pointed inside.
“Look, look,” he cried, can’t you see that the only thing in there is a tiny stack of dollar bills? That’s the only money we have left. In two days, it will all be gone!”
The people yawned and turned back to whatever they had been doing. “There’s no need to worry,” they said to each other. “Money always comes from somewhere.”
And it did.
Just as always after every natural or man-made disaster in the Virgin Islands, the necessary money arrived — in grants or aid or loans (which later would be forgiven).
Until one day it didn’t.
The money ran out and no money came. No grants, no aid, no loans.
In the famous fable by Aesop, a Greek slave who lived more than 2,500 years ago, a shepherd boy cries out a warning, “Wolf, wolf” and when the villagers scurry to fend off the beast, they discover the danger was not real. The boy did that so many times that eventually the villagers stopped taking him seriously.
Then one day a wolf did show up. The villagers were not prepared, and the results were tragic.
Virgin Islanders have regularly experienced variations of that tale. Administrations going back to the 1980s have cried for help whenever a financial crisis — real or not — occurred, and now we’re hearing it again. Last month, Office of Budget and Management Director Jenifer O’Neal announced that the V.I. government had only “two days of cash on hand.”
What’s that sound? Oh, of course: It’s the cry of “Wolf! Wolf!” coming from Government House.
The federal government has always heard the call and has always come to the rescue. As a result, the V.I. government has not made the substantive changes necessary to overcome a threat without outside help. V.I. leaders expect Uncle Sam will just write us another big check, which means they can keep spending and spending, pretending there will never be a real wolf or ever a time when Uncle Sam says “No.”
OMB’s O’Neal said the V.I. government is responding to the cash crisis by cutting back on some expenses and by leaving vacant employee positions vacant.
Unfortunately, that’s like cutting out one teaspoon of sugar a day and saying you’re on a diet to lose 100 pounds.
The moral of Aesop’s fable is that when you condition people to think you are pretending, they will not believe you when you are telling the truth and will not be ready to face the consequences.
The moral of the V.I. government’s story — now and so often before — is that we cannot handle a financial crisis because we never believe that we need to.
The current and previous V.I. administrations have said so many times that we are in dire financial straits — then taken back the warning after a just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue by the feds — that the V.I. government does not take its own warnings to heart.
Crisis? What crisis? The money will come from somewhere, so why worry?
The time will come when the federal government can’t — or won’t — save us. Only a fool would think otherwise.
We need to act. And we need to act now.
It does not take a Ph.D. in economics to see that deep cuts in government spending are required, but it does take a strong political will to make them and ensure that the cuts are in the right places.
The man on the street can see the payroll bloat, the redundancies and the luxuries.
Our government leaders have eyes to see those too — but first they must chose to open them.