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Berry's Financial Review Board Bill Dies in Committee

Editor's note: An editing insertion to this story as initially posted described the bill as a watered-down version of the original bill calling for a financial control board. The insertion was inaccurate.
June 24, 2004 – A bill sponsored by Sen. Lorraine Berry to establish a financial review board for the territory died during a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing Wednesday.
The bill called for the governor to appoint seven board members with financial management backgrounds with the consent of the Legislature to give assistance with the management of the government's revenues.
Berry's original legislation called for the creation of a financial control board.
Berry said on Wednesday that the government's financial problems are "systemic" and "structural" and that "only a board can fix these problems with recommendations to us."
However, witnesses appearing Wednesday and Berry's Senate colleagues did not see eye to eye with her.
Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, president of the League of Women Voters of the V.I., told the senators: "Although the league applauds these efforts toward greater fiscal accountability and responsibility on the part of the V.I. government, the proposals are lacking measures that would enforce the desired outcome,"
Ballentine said the V.I. Code contains public policies and procedures which, if followed, would insure the maintaining of sound fiscal policies.
Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said setting funding priorities is the most critical issue the government has to deal with. "There is not a consensus between the legislative and the executive branches in determining our priorities," he said.
Luis Morales, president of the Central Labor Council, also expressed opposition to the bill. "The legislative branch of government is the chief financial officer and the review board of the government," he said. He said the government needs to focus on collecting outstanding taxes and to stop giving companies tax exemptions for 20 years.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., agreeing with Morales, said the role that Berry set out for the financial review board is the job of the legislative branch of government. Were such a board to become reality, he said, the senators might as well go on vacation for the five years that it would be in existence.
Sen. Louis Hill also spoke against the bill. "The laws on the books today are sufficient to handle all our problems," he said.
Berry moved to forward the bill to the Rules Committee but it failed for lack of a second.
In other action, the senators by unanimous vote held in committee a bill sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hansen II providing for the Office of Inspector General to receive 1 percent of the annual executive branch operating budget.
The bill also calls for the attorney general to assign at least one assistant attorney general in each district to review matters referred to the V.I. Justice Department by the Inspector General's Office and for the Finance Department to develop a system for the daily reporting of revenues collected by the government.
Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt told the committee that his office should be under the legislative branch, as in other jurisdictions, because most of the agencies he audits are in the executive branch. He recommended that they hold the bill to make needed amendments. The committee moved to do so and agreed to make it the first item on the agenda of the next Government Operations Committee hearing.
Committee members present at Wednesday's hearing were the chair, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone; and Sen. Berry, Hill, Hansen, Carlton Dowe and White. Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. was absent.

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