Delegate's outlook on rum cover-over advance
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I remained in Washington this week to attend to several issues that are important to the Virgin Islands. Most important was a Monday meeting with Acting Interior Secretary for Insular Affairs Eileen Sobeck and Insular Affairs Director Nick Pula in support of the Virgin Islands request for reconsideration of the decision to withhold a portion of the advance payment of rum revenues until the passage of the 2014 authorization.
I clearly understand that in these current economic straits, our territory is in need of the full advance payment now more than ever before, and I expressed those sentiments to Interior officials.
While I strongly believe that we will receive the approximately $70 million that hangs in the balance, and would want us to receive it sooner rather than later, I also understand the current uncertainty in the federal government as a shutdown is still possible and a sequester that has cut every budget including Interior's continues to have its devastating effects.
My job as Delegate to Congress is to make sure that the cover-over is extended as always from $10.50 per proof gallon to $13.25. I was successful in raising it from the $10.50 level where it was when I came to Congress in 1999 to $13.25, where I have successfully kept it and will work to make sure it is raised again in 2014. Further, I will as always continue to press for a permanent extension that completely lifts the cap on those revenues so that the territory can receive the full $13.50.
As everyone knows - or should know - this Congress is divisive and in gridlock and nothing but bills to eliminate or defund the health care law or impose more cuts to critical programs are being passed. The budget sequester, which was intended to make both sides come to the table, has instead been implemented and no one is sure when it will be lifted.
In addition, it is important for everyone to recognize that the Interior Department is itself under intense scrutiny and is not in the best position to give us an advance without the authorization in place. Interior has done that in the past, and it is important to point out that they applied the same process last year as they are doing this year. They initially advanced the cover over at $10.50 and when the Congress passed the extension, they transferred the balance at the $13.25 level.
In today's toxic atmosphere, this is all that may be possible again.
So what do we do in the meantime? My staff and I will continue to support the territory's request for the advance as soon as is possible. We will continue the efforts that have been successful in the past to have the cover over passed retroactively for 2014.
We are cautiously optimistic that since there is significant pressure on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to pass all of the over 100 extenders of which our rum revenues are one - that it will get done. As the House and Senate committees work on tax reform, they will have to decide which extenders become permanent. I am hopeful that as this process goes forward, we will achieve the goal that we set out for: a permanent lifting of the cap and the return of the full $13.50 to the Virgin Islands treasury.
- V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen