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Homeownership Act Not Affordable, Governor Says

Aug. 13, 2004 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed Sen. Emmett Hansen's Homeownership Act of 2004 on Friday, beginning his transmittal letter to Senate President David Jones by saying "there is no one who supports homeownership opportunities for our residents more than I."
And, the governor added, "I also recognize the economic boom, and jobs, that passage of this bill would bring to the territory, especially the island of St. Croix."
But while supporting its intent and its potential, the governor said, "I could not in good conscience approve this bill, which in its present form will further exacerbate the territory's financial situation by siphoning off more monies from the General Fund."
The legislation calls for the construction of 2,500 homes in five years at the rate of 500 per year — 350 on St. Croix, 100 on St. Thomas and 50 on St. John. They would sell for between $60,000 and $180,000.
Turnbull pointed out that the bill calls for setting aside 40 percent of real-estate transfer Stamp Tax revenues for housing development, noting that all Stamp Tax money now goes into the General Fund. "With the current shortfall facing the General Fund," he wrote Jones, "the enactment of this section will increase this shortfall … not only in fiscal year 2004 but in future fiscal years."
Hansen made no attempt to hide his anger Friday afternoon – in no small part because of the timing of the veto. He has invited a group of national experts in faith-based housing initiatives to address local religious leaders in day-long seminars Monday on St. Thomas and Tuesday and Wednesday on St. Croix. (See "Senator Seeks Churches as Partners to Build Homes".)
"This veto is one of the most singular truly evil things I've painfully come across that our governor has done," Hansen said. "It's obvious that he would rather help the few and the privileged than the masses, if you are going to deny persons paying $500 to $700 a month in rent in public housing the right to live in their own homes."
Hansen noted the recent announcement of a $2 million renovation of the governor's mansion on Denmark Hill. "It's obvious that our governor would rather travel around touting EDC benefits than addressing the needs of the people," he said, referring to the Economic Development Commission, which decides what companies receive tax breaks in the territory.
In promoting his bill earlier this year, Hansen said it actually would put more money into the territory's coffers. The government owns "thousands upon thousands of acres of land," he said. "Nobody seems to have the exact amount, but it has been estimated at $385 million, and. nobody is doing anything with it."
The effect of his bill, he had said, would be "expanding the tax base by creating more homeowners, collecting on the long overdue property-tax indebtedness, and not taking the property away from the owners. And by stimulating the labor market and the consumer market."
The legislation would allow delinquent taxpayers to settle their debt by deeding to the government land worth at least what they owe in taxes. It also provides for giving tax credits to anyone who donated at least three acres of contiguous land to the government for affordable housing. (See "Hansen Proposes Public Land for Home Buyers".)
What really hurts now, Hansen said Friday afternoon, is canceling or postponing next week's housing seminars. "I have been in constant contact with these people and with developers," he said. "They are coming for a very specific reason … I can't have people take the time to come spend time here without the enabling legislation."
He continued: "Somebody told me the veto wasn't deliberate. I have to laugh. Why did he have to wait until the Friday before the Monday seminar?" Among the invited speakers is Marvin J. Owens, the National Urban League's vice president for economic development.
Earlier this year, Hansen organized two-day Urban Revitalization Homeownership Fairs in both districts that featured presentations by off-island experts in their fields, including Roy A. Bernardi, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs. (See "Two-Day Programs Focus on Home Ownership".)
This is not the first legislation of Hansen's the governor has vetoed. The senator's Infrastructure Act bounced from the Legislature to Government House twice, surviving two vetoes before the Legislature approved an override last September. The act calls for 6 percent of property taxes on each island to be earmarked, in equal parts, for streetlighting, road maintenance and potable water service on that particular island.
Nearly year after its enactment, the measure has yet to be implemented by the administration. And the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Ira Mills, told the Senate Finance Committee in July that it must be repealed in order for the government to have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2005.
In his transmittal letter, Turnbull told Jones he was sending along a bill of his own that "addresses my concerns and accomplishes the stated objections" of Hansen's housing bill. Neither a copy nor a description of his proposal was released to the media.

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