March 31, 2004 – Former Sen. Bent Lawaetz first proposed setting up the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission back in the late 1980s; it took him four years of hard work and negotiation to get his colleagues to support the bill.
It could take a similar struggle to get the commission and its programs back on track.
On Friday, the commission announced that it was suspending all operations for lack of money. It said the Legislature had tapped the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund one too many times for other non-related purposes.
In the decade-plus since the commission was created, Lawaetz said on Tuesday, it has had many successes in cleaning up the islands. But he added: "It would have helped more if the fund had not been raided all the time."
"The Legislature cannot resist temptation. It destroys the credibility of the Legislature when it does that," he said.
Cordell Jacobs, the commission's executive director, said on Tuesday that he had no comment other than to note that the matter is under investigation.
In its Friday release, the commission said the Legislature took money from the anti-litter fund to pay for Education and Public Works Department programs as well as the newly created Waste Management Authority. (See "Raiding of fund cited as recycling halted again".)
The release also cited the diverting of anti-litter funds to the Retirement System Mortgage Loan Fund, the Water and Power Authority, the library and museum publication program, the Amateur Basketball Association, a Julian Jackson retirement dinner, repairing the St. Thomas abattoir, hiring six firefighters and purchasing a new pump truck for the Cotton Valley Fire Station, dinner, acquiring VITRAN bus parts, and paying for a new fence and books for Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
One current senator spoke out on Tuesday in defense of the Legislature. Sen. Emmett Hansen II raised the question of when the various appropriations were made. "Julian Jackson retired 10 years ago" from professional boxing, he said.
Calling the executive branch "deliberately duplicitous," Hansen said the diversion of anti-litter funds would have had to take place in the current year for it to cause problems now.
Hansen accused the administration, under which the commission falls, of having spent the money. He said he does not know where in the executive branch the fault lies but that $500,007 is missing from the funding appropriated by the Legislature for the commission.
For the first two years of the commission's operations, Lawaetz said, the revenues raised through the new tax on beverage bottles and cans went directly into the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund.
However, he said, Government House then realized that according to the Revised Organic Act, the territory had no right to create specific tax funds. The law was amended, he said, and the beverage tax money began flowing into the General Fund — and the Senate soon began tapping into it for all manner of projects not related to cleaning up the islands.
Lawaetz said the anti-litter tax raised $3.2 million the first year. He said it's now up to $4 million or $5 million a year.
He recalled that when he first proposed the beverage container tax to fund anti-litter efforts, the territory's wholesalers were adamantly opposed because they thought it would be cumbersome make-work. "It was the only time I thought I needed a bodyguard," he said, only half joking.
The wholesalers also feared the bill would become a cash cow for other projects, he said. As it turns out, they were correct.
Eventually the wholesalers came on board and helped Lawaetz and his team draft the legislation. The bill went through many revisions, and by the time it got to the Senate floor, it included a $5 fee on all motor vehicles to help pay for their eventual disposal. That provision went down with a fight, but eventually the bill was passed and became law.
Lawaetz said he does not think the commission is dead. "I think there is enough political support for the program that the senators will have to mend their ways," he said. But he added that it is up to the public to demand that the lawmakers senators do just that.
St. John resident Norm Gledhill, who has worked for more than a decade on trying to get a glass-crushing program going on his island, is disappointed at the current turn of events. However, he blames Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and his predecessors, because they signed into law bills passed by the Legislature that depleted the anti-litter fund.
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