May 25, 2004 – A congressional committee hearing is scheduled for June 16 on Delegate Donna M. Christensen's bill to create the office of Chief Financial Officer and establish a comprehensive financial management system for the territory.
Christensen introduced what is officially known as the Virgin Islands Fiscal Accountability Act last November. The proposal has been thoroughly condemned by the delegate's fellow elected officials within the Democratic Party Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and the majority bloc in the 25th Legislature.
In March, the party's territorial committee voted to carry a resolution to the Democratic National Convention in July opposing the bill. Christensen has said the action was due to pressure from the governor and his adamant opposition to the federal government imposing financial oversight on the territory's central government. (See "Democrats to Take Fight against CFO National".)
The proposal also has been the subject of debate in town meetings hosted by Christensen and at other public forums.
In a poll conducted by the Source last month, 90 percent of respondents said they favor a new means of fiscal control for the V.I. government. Of those, 13 percent said they support Christensen's proposal to have the governor appoint a chief fiscal officer, while the other 77 percent expressed support either for the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs to appoint a chief financial officer from outside the territory, or for federal officials to set up a financial control board.
Christensen's bill calls for the CFO to assume the functions of the Office of Management and Budget for five years, overseeing and approving all government spending, with the power to disapprove spending which would result in a deficit.
The measure calls for the CFO to be appointed by the governor subject to confirmation by the Legislature. A search commission of public and private sector representatives would submit three candidates to the governor. The Secretary of the Interior would chair the body and would be empowered to make a selection if the commission failed to act.
The complete text of Christensen's bill can be found at the Library of Congress bill tracking Web site. In the "Bill Number" window Type in HR3589, then click on "Search."
In March Christensen said that she would propose an amendment to the bill based on input from the hearings she hosted in the territory and from comments submitted to her office. The amendment, she said, would spell out the CFO's duties and remove her initial requirement that the officer be a certified public accountant. (See Delegate Plans Amendment Clarifying CFO Duties).
The League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands discussed the bill at its annual meeting in April and again last weekend. Rosalie Simmonds Ballantine, league president, said Tuesday morning on WVWI Radio that the organization has not decided on a stand regarding the proposal.
Christensen announced on Tuesday that the bill will be on the House Resources Committee agenda for a June 16 meeting.
A release from her office said the purpose of the bill "is to streamline the financial structure of the government and end the roller coaster ride of continued deficits which has brought the territory to the brink of fiscal collapse."
The June hearing is the first step in the process of getting the bill enacted into law, Christensen said. "I look forward to the hearing and providing an opportunity for both sides of this issue — those who have expressed the view that my bill is not necessary, as well as those of us who maintain that it is — to be able to make our respective cases to Congress," she said.
U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, Resources Committee chair and a Republican from California, is expected to invite V.I. officials to present testimony. The committee's rules provide for the unlimited submission of written testimony, which will be included in the hearing record.
Brian Modeste, an aide to Christensen, said he expects the hearing to last about four hours. Afterward, how — or whether — the bill moves out of committee and onto the House floor will be up to Pombo.
Christensen in her release encouraged "every Virgin Islander wishing to have their views heard on this issue to submit a statement for the record by contacting my offices."
That may be done by calling 774-4408 on St. Thomas, 778-5900 on St. Croix, 776-1212 on St. John or (202) 225-1790 in Washington; or by faxing to 774-8033 on St. Thomas, 778-5111 on St. Croix or (202) 225-5517 in Washington.
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