March 16, 2002 – A Senate Government Operations Committee meeting Friday, called to get an update from the Public Works Department on St. Thomas-St. John district road work, wound up focusing on a familiar alternate topic — failure of the administration to release funds for projects mandated by the Legislature.
The senators also heard Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, say that, the administration's projected $100 million tax windfall notwitstanding, the government had a $15.9 million deficit for Fiscal Year 2001.
Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood and his chief engineer, Eduardo O 'Neal, described several road projects on St. Thomas, St. John and Water island, but both men complained of not receiving the funds to complete projects. "It is imperative we get all the funding we can to maintain 300 miles of road," Callwood said. "It is a requirement that local funds must maintain all roads."
Senators were at a loss to identify where those funds were, and Mills was not present at the start of the meeting. The committee chair, Sen. Emmett Hansen II, was talking about subpoenaing Mills when he walked in, saying that he had advised Hansen's staff he would be late.
Accosted about why the road funds and other funds had not been released, Mills began to explain that his office cannot release funds for measures appropriated in Senate overrides. But Hansen retorted, "We're not talking about overrides here; we are talking about appropriations that were fully funded."
Hansen and Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole took Mills to task for not releasing the money in Act 6427, the governor's supplemental budget. "That bill was cash in hand," Cole said. "It came down from Government House fully solvent." He added to Mills, "You need to release the money for a field and gym for the kids at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. Those children need a field to play on."
Hansen also brought up funding appropriated for a theater roof and a jazz festival on St. Croix.
Sen. Carlton Dowe said, "Construction is going to drive this economy. The Long Bay-Havensight project needs to get going."
Mills said, "When there is no money for allotments, I can't release anything. I certainly can't release what I don't have." He told the senators, as he has before, that when appropriations exceed revenues, his office and the governor have to decide which projects get priority for funding. He did not elaborate on that process.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has repeatedly berated the Legislature for "irresponsible overspending" in the last few months. In a recent message to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, he said the lawmakers have over-appropriated about $60 million in FY 2002.
Senators earlier praised Callwood for the work Public Works has accomplished with limited funding, especially the repairs to the Magens Bay road.
The elusive road work appropriations include $1.7 million for general maintenance territorywide; $853,000 for St. John roads; and the following for St. Thomas roads:
– $400,000 forWintberg and Wintberg Heights.
– $250,000 for Contant.
– $250,000 for East Caret Bay.
– $250,000 for Gold Hill in Estate Frydenhoj.
– $50,000 for Bethel Baptiste Road.
Committee members attending the meeting were Sens. Cole, Roosevelt David, Hansen, David Jones and Norma Pickard-Samuel. Sen. Adelbert Bryan was absent. Also present were Sens. Liburd and Vargrave Richards, who are not members.
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