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HomeNewsArchivesTOBACCO FUNDS IN DANGER; SPECIAL SESSION CALLED

TOBACCO FUNDS IN DANGER; SPECIAL SESSION CALLED

June 27, 2001 — As the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony Tuesday about the possible loss of the government’s share of the national tobacco settlement, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was announcing a special session of the Legislature for Thursday to address the issue and submit a bill seeking more than $40 million in supplemental appropriations from the general fund for a variety of projects.
While the V.I. has already received $2,426,894 in tobacco settlement proceeds, the $1.4 million payment for 2001 is in jeopardy because of errors in the local legislation that allowed the government to participate in the suit. For the territory to collect its payment for 2001, clarifying amendments must be approved by July 1, Amadeo Francis, director of finance and administration for the Public Finance Authority, told senators. Although the territory missed the July 2000 deadline, no money has been withheld because the Legislature passed the bill in good faith,he said.
"Yes, we were late. It happened," Francis said. "But let’s face it. We failed, but so did a number of other jurisdictions."
The tobacco settlement is to bring the territory’s hospitals and public health system almost $50 million over a period of 25 years.
Meanwhile, Turnbull is seeking tens of millions of dollars from the general fund for fiscal year 2001, which ends on Sept. 30, to provide $5.3 million in local matching funds for federal disaster assistance and other purposes, including:
– $500,000 to the Education Department, to purchase food for school lunch program.
– $600,000 for increased rum promotion.
– $248,000 for the Agriculture Department, $50,000 of it to reimburse funds advanced to fund drought-relief efforts and $198,000 to contract for the services of the Humane Societies of St. Croix and St. Thomas and a service provider on St. John.
– $1.5 million in local matching funds so the V.I. Justice Department can replace a computer system in the Paternity and Child Support Division.
– $2.75 million for the Finance Department, for repairs, equipment and hiring personnel "to monitor and facilitate agreed-upon audit procedures and to pay for any additional costs associated with auditing of the government's financial records."
– $4 million to the Public Works Department, for road repair.
– $4.3 million to the V.I. Housing Authority, to reimburse costs incurred in development of disaster shelter housing in Estate Nazareth that the Federal Emergency Management Agency disallowed.
– $15 million to pay for "past-due utility costs."
– $78,354 for the Board of Education, to renovate its central office on St. Thomas.
– $395,000 for the Housing, Parks & Recreation Department, to demolish condemned housing.
– $1 million for a Justice Department settlement with Abamar-BB, a construction contractor.
– $250,000 for the maintenance of the territory’s sewage system.
– $4 million to acquire Wheaton Estate property — as much necessary for the government to protect the Magens Bay watershed and the surrounding areas.
– $1 million to the Property and Procurement Department, to acquire additional property for a public cemetery and necessary infrastructure on St. Thomas.
– $800,000 for repairs and renovation of Government House on St. Thomas, including the repair of the ballroom floor, replacement of hurricane shutters, renovation of supporting facilities, environmental assessments and mitigation.
– $600,000 to the Economic Development Agency, for operations and other expenses.
– $300,000 to the Bureau of Corrections, to repair and renovate correctional facilities.
– $500,000 to Fire Services, for personnel and associated costs.
– $250,000 to the Human Services Department, for the Pharmaceutical Assisted to the Aged Special Fund.
Turnbull’s bill also seeks to reprogram the unused portion of $15 million in bond proceeds to fund a retirement incentive plan for the payment of prior-years obligations.
The governor is also requesting that funds from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund be used for a variety of projects:
– $853,000 to Public Works, to pave roads, barge garbage, operate and maintain a waste-water treatment plant on St. John.
– $250,000 to repair, operate and maintain the Star of Life ambulance boat and pay debts for emergency transportation service between St. John and St. Thomas.
– $1 million for debts owed to St. John vendors by Public Works and other central government agencies.
– $41,500 to Property and Procurement to complete removal of underground storage tanks
Turnbull is also seeking money from the Indirect Cost Fund and the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund:
– $160,000 to reimburse the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an overpayment of the indirect cost rate for the Women, Infants and Children program.
– $500,000 to Public Works for roadside cleanup and territory-wide beautification.
– $1 million to Public Works for the startup and operating costs for the V.I. Waste Management Authority.
The special session will also address the Uniform Commercial Code bill, specifically, Article 9. That concerns secured transactions between creditors and debtors; 1999 revisions to the article by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws have already been enacted in at least 27 states, with an effective date of July 1, 2001. The conference has urged all U.S. states and territories to enact the revisions by that date, saying "horrendous complications" could ensue for a jurisdiction failing to do so.

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