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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 13, 2024


May 19, 2003 – Some light should finally be shed on the government's fiscal crisis at a Senate Finance Committee meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday on St. Thomas.
For the first time since Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced almost a month ago that the territory is facing a $115 million budget deficit this fiscal year, those holding the purse strings of the territory's dwindling finances will be asked what's being done to counter the situation.
Since Turnbull made the announcement on April 24, no information has rolled down the hill from Government House about counter measures. The governor set up a 25-member all-government task force dubbed "Operation Cash Strapped" which has appeared to be vocally strapped as well. Although a number of meetings have been held, neither the committee nor the administration has held a public forum. (See "Public, private sectors differ on fiscal answers".)
The Finance Committee chair, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, has hopes Tuesday's hearing will provide some "hard figures" in order to determine how to proceed. "We continue to learn and hear a great deal about the government's financial problems, but there is much financial data missing," Donastorg said in a release on Monday. He said he had scheduled the hearing well over a month ago, but "this information is now more critical than ever."
Donastorg has said publicly that he would defer his meeting if the governor should call a special session of the Legislature to address the matter. The Senate Minority Caucus has been trying to get a Committee of the Whole meeting with the government's chief fiscal officers since January, well before the "crisis" was announced. (See "Minority offers 25 ways to increase revenues".)
Donastorg said the Legislature's Post Audit Division and his committee have been "very successful in identifying 'holes' where revenue should be collected, or has been misspent."
The senator after much vying with the Attorney General's Office finally succeeded in conducting an audit of the V. I. Lottery Office. "The recent investigations into the Lottery Office and horse racing identified taxes that were not being collected, bad deals and monies being misspent," he said.
"All these matters add up to create significant difficulties," Donastorg continued. "We cannot discount the importance of even the smallest revenue stream. It is that kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place."
Donastorg said he is planning once again to reintroduce his bill to reduce the makeup of the Legislature to nine members from the current 15. The bill also contains a section which reduces the Senate budget by 25 percent.
Although the idea won overwhelming approval in a November 2000 referendum — with 17,000 voters endorsing such a reduction — Donastorg's bill failed in the 24th Legislature. Many senators pooh-poohed the idea, saying the public didn't know what it was doing and claiming people needed more education.
The Senate is having an active week, also addressing several other issues critical to the territory's well being, including a Coastal Zone Management permit to allow demolition and construction of the old Yacht Haven Hotel, the hospitals' nursing shortage, transfer of property taxes to the Internal Revenue Bureau and reintroduction of Sen. Emmett Hansen II's Infrastructure Maintenance Act, now "of 2003,"after earlier having appeared as "of 2001," and then "of 2002."
– On Wednesday at 10 a.m. on St. Croix , the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee will hear testimony on the territory's nurse shortage, recruitment and retention. Invited to testify: Dr. Michael Potts, Juan F. Luis Hospital interim chief executive; Rodney Miller, Roy L. Schneider Hospital chief executive; Karen Andrews, administration chief negotiator; and many other health officials.
– On Thursday at 10 a.m. on St. Thomas, the Rules Committee will consider the governor's nominations of Carver Farrow Sr. for the Government Employees Retirement System board of trustees, and of Daryl Lynch and Roy Anduze for the Water and Power Authority governing board.
– On Friday at 10 a.m. on St. Thomas, the Government Operations Committee will hear testimony on a bill to transfer collection of real property taxes to the Internal Revenue Bureau from the Finance Department and legislation to create a separate, independent Financial Services Bureau within the executive branch. Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards; Bernice Turnbull, Finance commissioner; Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director; David Ridgway, V.I. Insurance Association president; and Cassan Pancham, V.I. Banking Association president, are invited to testify.
The committee also will consider Hansen's Infrastructure Act of 2003, which seeks to establish a "District Public Road Fund" to use a portion of property taxes to fund street lighting, potable water and road maintenance. The bill has had a rocky history. (See "Vetoed bill again seen as hope to fund lighting".)
– On Friday at 6 p.m., the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee will consider key elements of the Yacht Haven restoration project — the major CZM permit and the lease agreement between the government and property owner Insignia Nautica. Ron Uretta, president, and Elie Finegold, vice president, IN-USVI LLC; and Janice Hodge, executive director, and Julita Leon, legal counsel, CZM program, will testify.
The committee also will consider a new lease agreement for the longtime Red Hook Marina water taxi operation.

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