May 11, 2004 – After further amending the governor's proposed fiscal year 2004 supplemental budget, the Legislature voted 12-2 on Tuesday to approve the measure.
In a resumption of Friday's legislative session that started at 2:30 p.m., a change from the scheduled 1 p.m., senators approved two amendments and an amendment to one of the amendments before voting on the bill itself around 4 p.m..
Sen. Roosevelt David said the changes made in the governor's proposed supplemental appropriations of $590 million had the net effect of reducing the total by $10, to $589,999,990. That figure could not immediately be verified.
One of the amendments, brought to the floor by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, calls for halting the imposition of the 4 percent tax on vehicles brought into the territory for personal use.
The amendment passed on a 7-5 vote with Sens. Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Luther Renee, Usie Richards and Celestino White voting in the affirmative. Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Louis Hill, David Jones, Shawn-Michael Malone and Ronald Russell voted against the measure. Sen. Lorraine Berry was absent from the session, David was absent for the vote, and Emmett Hansen II abstained.
The other amendment, proposed by the Senate minority caucus, makes several decreases and increases to the supplemental budget. These include reducing to $1 million the governor's appropriation of $3 million from the General Fund to the Finance Department for repayment to the Payroll Fund and increasing an appropriation to the V.I. Olympic Committee to $225,000 from $200,000.
The majority caucus made an amendment to the minority's amendment specifying the amounts of money appropriated for the pay increases negotiated by various unions: $2.6 million for the Association of Hospital Employed Physicians, $253,046 for the International Association of Firefighters, $51,700 for the assistant attorneys general, $225,623 for correctional officers, $36,432 for law-enforcement officers and $1.1 million for the United Steelworkers of America (Masters) Union.
"We shall not have you wait any longer. You deserve your raises," majority member David said to union leaders in the audience.
Donastorg told his colleagues he had "serious reservations" about appropriating more than $4.2 million for the pay raises. "I am cautioning you to be careful in what you do," he said.
Gov. Turnbull in his proposal called for an appropriation of $2.8 million for the negotiated pay raises of teachers only.
The majority's amendment to the minority's amendment was approved with a 11-2 vote with Donastorg and Richards voting against. Baptiste abstained and Berry was absent.
The minority's amendment was then approved with a 12-2 vote with Donastorg and Richards once again voting in the negative.
The senators then approved the supplementary budget as amended on a 12-2 vote with Donastorg and Richards voting against the measure.
The supplemental budget consists of appropriations for the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, in addition to the existing appropriations for this fiscal year that are identical to those appropriated for FY 2003.
The Senate approved a FY 2004 budget last November; the governor vetoed it in its entirety in December. He then announced that the same budget enacted for FY 2003 budget would hold for FY 2004 but that he would shortly propose supplemental appropriations. His proposal was formally received by the Senate on May 3.
"The ultimate result is that the poor people got a raise," Russell said of Tuesday's proceedings.
"In the true spirit of bipartisanship we were able to do something for the people," Jones said.
Hill, echoing Jones's sentiments, said: "I believe this piece of legislation is a great collaboration between the minority and the majority."
Richards, who walked off the floor immediately following the final vote, had said before the session that "all the majority did Monday was caucus" to form their own amendment. Although he is the minority leader, he voted against both the minority amendment as amended and the supplemental bill itself.
Luis "Tito" Morales, local president of the United Steel Workers of America, said after the final vote: "The legislation is passed, and I am thankful to all the senators. The employees can now be paid as long as the governor does not veto it."
Donastorg said he voted against the measure because he has concerns that the government will not be able to support it fiscally. And he said he expects that Turnbull will item veto some portions of the bill.
"It was against my better judgment," Donastorg said. "This government is not ready to sustain raises of this magnitude at this time, especially when we're facing a $95 million deficit for fiscal year 2005."
The governor by law is to submit his proposed fiscal year 2005 budget for the executive branch to the Legislature by the end of May — less than three weeks from now.
Noticeably absent from Tuesday's deliberations was Sen. Lorraine Berry, who in more than two decades has rarely missed a Senate committee meeting, let alone a legislative session. At last Thursday's Rules Committee meeting, she had told her colleagues that with no new revenue sources in place to fund the pay increases, "this is a recipe for disaster."
Berry said Tuesday night that she was off-island for a medical appointment during the day. "He knew last week when he set the legislative hearing date that I wouldn't be there," Berry said of Senate President David Jones. "Everybody knows that I don't miss Senate sessions."
Had she had been there, Berry said, she would have voted against the supplemental budget. "I'm still not sure" that the raises can be sustained, she said Tuesday night.
Berry had written to Gov. Turnbull asking for a meeting of the legislative and administrative branches to "hammer out a proposal acceptable to all" regarding funding for the negotiated pay increases. She said on Tuesday night she had not received a reply.
The bill will now be forwarded to the governor.
All senators were present at Tuesday's session except Berry.
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