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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024


July 7, 2003 – The opening day of Fiscal Year 2004 budget hearings before the Senate Finance Committee was cut short Monday morning when agency heads and commissioners scheduled to testify failed to appear.
The committee had scheduled day-long hearings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, although Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has not yet sent his proposed FY 2004 budget to the Legislature.
Turnbull has held off submitting the budget until the Senate acts on his proposals to address the FY 2003 fiscal crisis, including his plan for the territory to borrow another $235 million on the bond market. (See "Donastorg: Budget hearings to begin next week".)
Monday's lead-off witnesses were to have been Bradley Christian, chair, and Willis Todman, financial adviser, of the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute, at 10 a.m. Also on the day's agenda were Agriculture Commissioner Lawrence Lewis at 11:30 a.m.; Lauritz Mills, Bureau of Economic Research director, at 2:30 p.m.; and Frank Schulterbrandt, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority, at 4 p.m.
Lewis also failed to appear Monday morning, but he sent a letter explaining why. In the letter he told the Finance Committee chair, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, that he had in fact submitted the required budgetary information to the Office of Management and Budget.
But since "we have had no final copy of what Gov. Turnbull intends the budget for the V.I. Department of Agriculture to be, we are therefore not in a position to support, defend or disagree with anything," Lewis wrote. "We would be just wasting money at a time when we can ill afford to do so."
Donastorg said that as an official of the "first branch of government," he saw the absence of department heads as "a disrespect."
"Who runs this government!" he exclaimed at the committee meeting.
With no one on hand to testify Monday morning, Donastorg called off the hearings for the whole week. On Tuesday, officials of the governing boards of the territory's two hospitals were to have appeared; on Wednesday, officials of the carnival committees, the Law Enforcement Planning Commission and the V.I. Taxicab Association were to have done so.
The committee then voted to subpoena all government officials and department and agency heads scheduled to appear in the budget hearing process — a total of 71 representatives, from the governor himself to the heads of the Law Revision Commission, V.I. Public Television, both horse racing commissions and the Office of Public Defender.
Schulterbrandt had been scheduled to appear before the committee at 4 p.m. on Monday. But around midday, he said later Monday, while he was in the process of finalizing his testimony, he received a call from the Legislature's Post Audit Division informing him that the budget hearings had been postponed.
"My staff worked over the weekend," Schulterbrandt said. "They came in and prepared all the data I requested. I was ready to present my data."
Schulterbrandt's date to appear before the finance committee is now July 21. "I would voluntarily attend," he said. But also, "as an attorney, I respect the power of a subpoena."
Sen. Douglas Canton, Senate majority leader, said that "resorting to a subpoena is a tool." He put responsibility for the lawmakers' need to utilize it on the governor.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said he recalled Turnbull telling his staff to comply with the Legislature regarding the budget hearings. "He is saying one thing, and they are doing another," Malone said.
Donastorg agreed. He said he does not think the governor made a decision to sabotage the budget hearings, but he does believe that Turnbull needs to "grab control of his ship."
An aide to Donastorg said his office would likely issue a revised schedule of budget hearings by "early next week."

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