May 6, 2004 – The full Senate convenes at 1 p.m. Friday to take up the version of the governor's proposed fiscal year 2004 supplemental budget that emerged from the Rules Committee on Thursday afternoon adorned with assorted amendments, including several non-fiscal items.
On Monday, the Finance Committee got first crack at the $590 million supplemental budget Gov. Charles W. Turnbull reportedly had signed off on as of April 22 but did not officially submit until this week. An immediate issue raised was his provision for salary increases for teachers but no other unionized workers, notably firefighters.
The Finance Committee amended the bill to appropriate $9.1 million to fund the other union contracts negotiated two years ago — funding that had been included in the budget the Senate passed last November that the governor vetoed in December. It added other amendments to increase funding to the V.I. Housing Authority and the Motor Vehicle Bureau and to provide scholarship funds for the Board of Vocational Education.
Other major provisions of the bill include an additional $2.5 million for the Police Department and $1.4 million more for the Corrections Bureau.
On Thursday, the Rules Committee also passed the bill — after tacking on further amendments to:
– Appropriate $3 million from the General Fund to the Finance Department for repayment into the Payroll Fund.
– Transfer $500,000 from the General Fund to the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund for litter cleanup.
– Appropriate $500,000 from the General Fund to the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department to fund the St. Croix Swimming Association, V.I. Track and Field Federation, St. Croix Blues Festival, St. Croix Latin Music Festival, V.I. Caribbean Friendship Committee, an expansion of Sunset Jazz and other music and sports events.
– Appropriate $250,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund for St. John's 50th anniversary Fourth of July Celebration.
– Appropriate $200,000 to the V.I. Basketball Federation.
– Appropriate $65,000 from the General Fund to the Property and Procurement Department for appraisal and structural analysis of St. Croix's Ville La Reine Shopping Center, with an eye to establishing a consolidated government center there.
– Add to the law enacted by veto override on April 26 granting peace-officer status, notably to the Office of Inspector General's investigators, a provision that the status conferred "does not apply to enforcement officers within the Treasury Division of the Department of Finance hired on or after the effective date of this subsection."
– Bring the territory into compliance with the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 by providing for the expulsion of students found to have brought firearms to school or to be in possession of firearms at school, and for parents to appeal such action to the Board of Education.
– Provide that no legally constituted business may plead any law against usury as a defense in a legal action instituted to enforce the payment of indebtedness.
With his veto of the Senate's FY 2004 budget, Turnbull said on Dec. 23 that the government would continue to operate for the rest of the fiscal year under the FY 2003 budget but that he would shortly submit a supplemental budget to address critical needs. That is the budget taken up this week.
FY 2004 runs through Sept. 30. Meantime, May 30 is the deadline by law for the governor to submit his proposed FY 2005 budget for the executive branch to the Legislature.
In Thursday's deliberations, several senators expressed concern for union employees who have gone for years without their negotiated raises, citing the rising cost of living including this week's approval by the Public Services Commission of an increase in a Water and Power Authority surcharge on electric bills.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, while agreeing that deserving employees should receive raises, pronounced the proposal to fund all of the negotiated union increases "foolhardy." With no new revenue sources in place to fund the increases, "this is a recipe for disaster," she said.
Sen. Ronald Russell, however, accused Turnbull of sowing "dissension, disparity and disharmony" in granting raises only to the teachers. And to the issue raised by Berry, he responded: "If you want to know where the revenue is coming from, you need to look at the budget that was passed by the 25th Legislature and vetoed by the governor."
Senate President David Jones also brought up the governor's failure to implement revenue-generating and cost-cutting measures proposed by the Senate last year.
Sen. Usie Richards directed an oft-heard complaint to the administration: Information requested "has not been forthcoming," leaving the Senate without "a true and accurate picture of the financial status" of the government.
Committee members present were Sen. Roosevelt David, the chair; and Sens. Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Carlton Dowe, Jones and Russell. Sen. Louis Hill was excused. Also present were Sens. Emmett Hansen II, Norman Jn. Baptiste and Richards, who are not members of the committee.
The session was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., but Jones said a delay was necessary due to the amendments.
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