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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 14, 2024


Gov. Charles W. Turnbull will call the 23rd Legislature into special session Friday to consider legislation that would identify funds to bring public school teachers' salaries on step. The announcement came late Wednesday, the first day of a strike which saw about 1,200 teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff take to the picket lines across the territory.
At issue is the union's rejection of a tentative wage agreement which called on the teachers to forgo half of retroactive wages in exchange for an increase totaling about $8 million.
Sources within the administration have confirmed that the bulk of the money will come from a loan Turnbull proposes to make against the Insurance Guaranty Fund. Other sources of funding include a $4 million dollar cash advance from the V.I. Port Authority and $1 million each from the West Indian Co. Ltd. and the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
The administration's financial consultant, First Union Securities, Inc., and Legislative Post Auditor Campbell Malone both have said borrowing against the insurance fund is neither fiscally responsible nor recommended. (Click here for related story.)
The plan calls for Port Authority to give $4 million up front and the government to increase the recently approved GARVEE bond allotment to $12 million from $8 million to assist in the development of the Enighed Pond marine terminal project on St. John.
The money from the IGF includes $5 million already proposed in the Fiscal Year 2001 budget as a contribution to the general fund. The anticipated funds from WAPA and WICO represent annual contributions the two entities make to the general fund.
It was unclear just how much money is at issue. A Government House statement released well after 10 p.m. Wednesday said the governor would submit a proposal to the Senate for $8.6 million to be obtained from the insurance fund and the independent entities. Legislative insiders and administration sources said after Wednesday's meeting that Turnbull was prepared to seek up to $16 million: $10 million from the IGF, $1 million each from WICO and WAPA and $4 million from Port Authority.
The Government House statement also said funds would be made immediately available to Chief Negotiator Karen Andrews for AFT's negotiated salary increases. "The monies would substitute those that are presently contained in the FY 2001 budget proposal, without the 50-50 cost share for health insurance and retirement benefits," according to the statement.
On Wednesday, the governor also authorized Andrews to reopen negotiations with the AFT. "It was jointly agreed that the severe financial condition of the territorial government prevented the body from developing a better financial package for the AFT," the statement said.
It was also learned Wednesday evening that Turnbull will attempt to have the Senate approve a "cleaned-up version" of the early retirement bill he vetoed Friday. At that time he cited "killer amendments" tacked onto the proposal which threatened the financial stability of the Government Employees Retirement System, but he vowed to work with the Senate to approve legislation that could lead to a reduced government workforce through attrition.
Thursday and Friday's scheduled Finance Committee budget hearings have been cancelled until next week to allow senators and staff to develop the salary and retirement legislation to be considered Friday. The special session called for Friday will be broadcast live by two St. Thomas Radio Stations: WVWI Radio One (1000 AM) and WIUJ, 102.9 FM.

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