>> The pristine beaches and turquoise waters of the US Virgin Islands masking an urgent cash crisis. With just over 100,00 residents, the island chain of St. Croix, St. and St. John owes more than $2 billion to investors. Reuters' correspondent, Robin Respaut recently visited and found officials scrambling to shore up the territories finances.
They want to avoid a similar feat to neighboring Puerto Rico, which recently filed for bankruptcy.>> The cash problem here is endemic throughout the territory. The local government here and public hospitals haven't paid their electric bills to the Water and Power Authority. The Water and Power Authority owes money to fuel vendors, the public pension fund here is severely underfunded, and at times the local government has operated with just two days cash on hand this year.
>> Ratings agencies have downgraded the Islands credit ratings deep into junk territory, and investors refused to buy a new bond sale last January. And while the US Virgin Islands is still paying its debts, it's the residents who are suffering, living with pitted roads, crumbling schools and electricity outages.
>> The Virgin Islands debt problems are compounded by the constrained economics of an isolated island nation. The territory traditionally relied on tourism, rum production and a oil refinery that closed in 2012, eliminating many middle class jobs. Public workers make up the largest job sector here in the Islands, making any sort of cutback to government spending felt all the more acutely by the local economy.
>> In an effort to raise money quickly, the government has increased taxes on everything, from cigarettes and sugary drinks to vacation time shares. It also plans to tax Airbnb rentals and ordered 10% cuts across government departments. It's pursued delinquent tax payers by threatening to auction homes and businesses with outstanding tax bills.
But US Virgin Island officials are still facing a projected $100 million budget deficit for this fiscal year ending in September.