Aug. 31, 2004 – On Sept 5, 2003, the Legislature overrode Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's second veto of Sen. Emmett Hansen II's Infrastructure Maintenance Act. Almost a year later, the law has yet to be implemented.
Hansen said on Tuesday that he has found a source of funding to back the legislation so that needed infrastructure work can be undertaken.
The law calls for 6 percent of property tax revenues from St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island to be placed in separate funds for street lighting, potable water distribution and road maintenance for the respective islands. That is, 2 percent of the taxes paid by property owners on each island would go into each of the three infrastructure funds for that particular island.
"We have been putting bandages on these problems for decades," Hansen said in a release, "but right now it's time for major surgery. We can either continue fooling around and pretending we're solving problems, or we can get the funding to do it comprehensively and solve all of the problems at once."
Hansen said on Tuesday that he has been working with the corporate vice president of UBS Financial Services, Michael Kelleher. He said he showed Kelleher the Legislature's post-audit report on property-tax collections over the last four months of 2003, a revenue stream he said was sufficient to fund up to $50 million in bonds.
"Kelleher said the revenue stream is 'perfectly solvent' [and] that he could do the bonding locally, without going to the New York office," Hansen said.
Also, Hansen said, according to the post-audit analysis, "contrary to assertions by the governor's financial team, the bill would cost the government $4.2 million, rather than the $18 million" the executive branch had claimed.
Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director, said at a July Senate meeting that if the Legislature did not approve a moratorium on implementing raises or did not repeal the Infrastructure Maintenance Act, it would have to find another way to balance the fiscal year 2005 budget. The governor, adamantly against the legislation, vetoed it twice. (See "Override OKS Infrastructure Maintenance Act".)
In a recent Senate meeting, Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull said she had not disbursed the revenues earmarked for the infrastructure funds. Reminded by a senator that the act is the law, Turnbull replied, "So is paying the employees." She said she could not do both.
The act calls for the tax revenues to be disbursed on Oct. 1 of each year. Hansen said at the time of the override that "the next step is to retain an attorney to ascertain the law is observed, the money distributed." He said that if the OMB director "doesn't obey the law, and doesn't maintain these funds in a lockbox as stipulated, we will take the government to court. We will sue the government and individuals personally."
On Tuesday Hansen said: "The law is the law. They should recognize their faulty math and come back and implement the bill. Anybody can make a mistake. They have to do the right thing." But he also said that if the disbursement of funds doesn't occur on Oct. 1, he will, indeed, go to court.
Hansen said he's confident the law will be followed, one way or the other. "For the first time, we can say with certainty that we can provide services to places and people that never had any possibilities of having that service," he said. For example, he said that on St. Croix, "People from LaVallee to Point Udall can now enjoy potable water. When I was born, this problem existed. Now, we have the solution at our fingertips."
He lauded Police Commissioner Elton Lewis for holding a series of town meetings to discuss public safety issues on the various islands. "He talks about neighborhood watch programs," the senator said, "but how can you watch anything when the neighborhood is dark?"
Now, Hansen said, he's looking for another override, in the full Senate session scheduled for Sept. 14-16 of the governor's August veto of his Home Ownership Act of 2004. The act is intended to work hand in hand with the infrastructure act, which provides for potable water and street lighting for new residential developments.
The legislation "would add an additional $8.5 million to the property tax base," he said (See "Home Ownership Act Not Affordable, Governor Says".)
Hansen said he anticipates the support of his colleagues for the override. "The excuses of why we have not moved these things forward have run out," he said. "It is time to act."
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.