May 4, 2004 It was after midnight Monday when the Senate Finance Committee finally amended and approved Gov. Charles Turnbull's supplemental budget for fiscal year 2004.
The supplemental budget, which Turnbull had proposed to submit since December, caused a stir among the union leaders present.
Turnbull had appropriated an additional $8 million to the Department of Education to address, among other things, the already negotiated wages for teachers. The territory's teacher unions had been filing petitions with the Public Employees Retirement Board over the administration's failure to pay the scheduled, salary increases.
No scheduled, raise increases were granted to the other union members, however.
"There has to be a collective approach to what we're doing," Sen. Almando Liburd said. "You guys are pitting unions against unions."
In justifying the pay raises to teachers, Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, "Nothing is more comprehensive to the economic development of a country than the education of its people."
Randolph Allen, representative for the United Steelworkers of America, told the senators that the government has not been honoring its contract.
"When the executive branch is trying to squeeze blood for one department, this is cause for concern," Allen said. "The United Steelworkers will have to do, what its got to do."
Allen said the administration had to forgo increases for its union members for the last two years, and it still cannot give them the negotiated increase this year.
"If anybody in this administration is taking our silence for weakness, they have another thing coming," Allen said.
Daryl George, president of the local Association of Firefighters, said the supplemental budget should not be approved because it doesn't address the raises promised to the firefighters.
"The waiting is over," George said, adding that the firefighters union has filed suit against the V.I. government.
Louis "Tito" Morales, representing the St. John Labor Council, said no "fairness" seems to be involved in the application of raises.
"It is clear that the governor intends to deal with the increases as he sees fit," Morales said.
Nathan Simmonds, chairman of the governor's financial team, said, in defense of the governor, "The issue of dealing with negotiated pay raise is whether we can sustain our ability to pay them."
Simmonds added, if the economy continues to grow and becomes "sustainable," the government would be able to pay negotiated pay raises.
"This supplemental budget will have to be amended to incorporate other unions who are owed money," Sen. Roosevelt David said.
Committee members did just that.
The $590 million supplemental budget was amended to appropriate $9.1 million to fund union contracts. The budget was also amended to increase funding to the V.I. Housing Authority, the Department of Motor Vehicles and to provide scholarship funds for the Vocational Education Board.
Five senators voted for the bill, as amended. No votes were cast against it. It now goes to the Rules Committee, which will consider it on Wednesday.
The other major items of the supplemental budget are:
An award of $213,179 to the V.I. Elections System to match a grant received by the federal government.
An $84,000 increase to the office of the V.I. Inspector General for professional services and travel as well as to fund a 40-hour work week.
An increase of $2.5 million to the V.I. police department, of which $598,000 is to provide equipment and staffing for the Motor Vehicle Bureau.
An increase of $1.4 million to the Department of Justice Bureau of Corrections.
Committee members present were Chair Adlah Donastorg, Sens. David, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Sen. Louis Hill and Norman Jn. Baptiste were absent. Also attending the hearing was Sen. Liburd.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice… click here.