Senators’ Pay Raise Main Election Issue In Virgin Islands With AM-Puerto Rico-Elections, Bjt
CHRISTIANSTED, St. Croix (AP) _ The pay raise of more than $20,000 a year that legislators have given themselves dominates Tuesday’s elections in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The 15 senators representing the 110,000 residents of this U.S. territory have voted for a salary of $55,000 starting Jan. 1.
By comparison, legislators who represent the 28 million people of California, the nation’s most populous state, will make $40,816 under a pay raise that takes effect Dec. 5.
At stake in the election are 15 seats in the Senate of the Virgin Islands and a congressional seat in Washington.
Ron deLugo, a Democrat and a non-voting member of Congress, is running uncontested for his eighth two-year term.
The Virgin Islands, which consist of the Caribbean islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, have a single-chamber legislature comprised of senators elected for two-year terms.
The Central Labor Council that represents most of the state employees is endorsing candidates for the Senate for the first time this year.
Fred Joseph, chairman of the council’s Political Action Committee, said Friday that the pay raise was a major issue in determining the council’s endorsements.
He said the lawmakers are giving themselves a huge raise at a time when the government owes its workers $27 million in past wage increases already agreed to.
″The people will send them a message,″ and vote them out of office, he said. ″If we can’t get our raise, then you can’t get yours.″
The senators voted in 1986 to raise their salaries to the level of the governor and his 12 department heads.
The legislators’ 1986 yearly salary was $25,000. In 1988, each senator earned $34,776.
In justifying the latest raise, Senate Majority Leader Clement Magras said being in the Senate is a full-time job and senators work far longer than the official 9-to-5 hours.
The other big issues in the election are health and education.
Gov. Alexander Farrelly this year declared a state of emergency in the Health and Education departments, citing severe staff and equipment shortages and dilapidated buildings. The governor’s $329 million health care improvement plan became law in October.
Farrelly is serving his first four-year term and is expected to run for re- election in November 1990.
A referendum is scheduled for November 1989 on whether to seek a change in the Virgin Islands’ status as a U.S. territory. Voters would choose either the status quo, statehood or independence, subject to approval by Congress.
Although Virgin Islanders are U.S. citizens, they cannot vote for president, as is the case in Puerto Rico.