Oct. 16, 2003 – The budget for Fiscal Year 2004, which began Oct. 1, won't be seeing the light of day any time soon. Senate President David Jones said on Thursday he anticipates having the spending plan before the full Senate "about mid-November."
Jones is holding a series of meetings between the Legislature and budget stakeholders. The first was held Wednesday on St. Croix. Others will follow over the next eight days, and then, on Oct. 23, the budget "markup" process will begin. It was not clear whether the meetings are open to the public, but none are taking place in Senate chambers.
The senators were meeting with union leaders Thursday night on St. Croix. On Friday, they are to confer with officials of three semi-autonomous agencies — the Water and Power Authority, the Port Authority and The West Indian Co. The other three meetings are on St. Thomas — on Monday with the governor's financial team, on Tuesday morning with the Government Employees Retirement System, on Tuesday afternoon with the Economic Development Authority, and on Wednesday via teleconference hookup with cruise line representatives.
The Senate Finance Committee has taken testimony at least once from officials of all the entities except the cruise lines as part of its FY 2004 budget hearings. The committee and the full Senate have met with the governor's financial team members on numerous occasions.
Jones said on Thursday that there is still a lot of study to be done on the budget. "We don't want to submit a budget and then six months down the road have to revise it," he said. "In other words, we don't want the medicine to kill the patient."
Jones said he opposes the governor's proposed 36-hour work week and new and increased taxes. It would apparently be up to the Senate to come up with alternative revenue-generating measures needed to balance the budget.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Finance Committee chair, said his committee is prepared to proceed as soon as the budget is ready. "The biggest setback has been preparing all the amendments — never mind that the minority's proposals are still being drafted," he said.
Jones had asked Donastorg to delay a budget markup meeting earlier this month; Donastorg did so, albeit reluctantly. He told Jones: "I truly hope that we can bring the budget process to a successful and productive conclusion before the end of this month." (See "Senate budget markup delayed at Jones's request".)
Donastorg agreed with Jones on the governor's budget proposals. "Under no circumstances will I support the 36-hour work week," he said. As for the taxes, Donastorg said he would not endorse them, considering all the money that is out on the street. "There's $100 million outstanding in delinquent property taxes," he said. "There's too much to be collected. We need to make sure those departments that are charged with the responsibility of collection" carry out that responsibility.
His committee "pretty much has things in perspective," Donastorg said. "I made recommendations for revenue generating measures." And he said he has prepared eight recommendations having to do with how to "go about executing a budget."
He said he is recommending a modified line-item budget, suggesting that each department or agency provide a list of personnel with a code indicating each employee's salary. Then, he said, "you go to the miscellaneous expenses like utilities. That's where you reduce items and force them to come back to the Senate on as-needed basis."
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