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Budget Passes Committee, Goes to Senate

Sept. 29, 2004 — The Senate Rules Committee, at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, finally approved a $500.7 million budget for fiscal year 2005 and voted to suspend the implementation of the Infrastructure Maintenance Act of 2003 until Jan.1, 2006.
The bill is not expected to clear the Senate before Thursday and then, according to at least one senator, faces a strong possibility of a veto from the governor.
The committee had been struggling since Monday afternoon to produce a balanced budget but could not come to a consensus.
At issue for several senators was the funding of the $9.2 million in negotiated pay raises for union workers and the failure to implement new revenue proposals after the removal of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's tax proposals.
Sen. Lorraine Berry urged her colleagues to work together on finding other revenue sources.
"Cutting the budget to give the raises is not the answer," she said, asking her colleagues what they would tell the employees when the governor vetoed the bill.
Senators also contended with cuts made by the Finance Committee to the appropriations of various government agencies and the finalization of the appropriations to the legislative and judicial branches. Turnbull had sent down a lump-sum budget of $40.5 million to share between both the legislative and judicial branches. (See "Lack of Revenue, Funding For Raises Stalls Budget" ).
At about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, two and a half hours later than the scheduled 3 p.m. time for reconvening, the committee met and debated an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the executive budget bill sent down by the Finance Committee.
The amendment, sponsored by Senate President David Jones, established a modified lump-sum budget for the executive branch and included $3.5 million in cuts to the vacant position of various departments, with the exception of the essential departments such as education, police, health and the two hospitals.
The vacancy cuts plus a $7.2 million cut in the miscellaneous section will be used to fund the negotiated pay raises, Jones said.
"I have a problem when we look out for other government employees but fail to institute pay raises for the hard-working legislative employees," Jones said, referring to the Senate's failure to approve legislation that would implement pay raises for its employees.
Sen. Carlton Dowe said he noticed there was nothing for Little League Baseball in the miscellaneous section and no new revenues were identified.
"This still needs to go back to the drawing board," Dowe said.
Berry said revenues have been down since the governor's submission of his budget in May. But Committee Chair Roosevelt David disagreed, saying the government had collected $120 million so far this year, "which is a 30 percent increase over last year's collections."
At about 6:45 p.m., apparently taking the advice of Dowe, David announced a "short" break, which ended at 11 p.m.
Changes were made to Jones' amendment. The miscellaneous section of the budget was changed to reflect a $700,000 increase to upgrade the government's Financial Management System, a $100,000 increase to the Family Resource Center and a $2.5 million increase for the Bearing Point Contract, bringing the miscellaneous section total to $61,383,885. Also, all of the vacant position cuts were restored.
The senators also appropriated $16 million for themselves from Turnbull's $40.5 m lump-sum budget and granted the judicial branch the remaining $24.5 million bringing the grand total of the budget to $500,701,704.
The weary senators approved Jones amendment unanimously. They also unanimously approved an amendment to reduce the amount of income tax set aside for refunds to 5 percent from the original 10 percent, an amendment appropriating $250,000 for Little League Baseball and an amendment to suspend the implementation of the Infrastructure Maintenance Act of 2003 until Jan. 1, 2006.
The Infrastructure Maintenance Act, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hansen II, calls for 6 percent of property tax revenues for each island to be established into a special fund for road repairs, water and streetlights.
The committee voted 6-1 on the bill as amended. Berry, David, Douglas Canton, Louis Hill, Jones and Ronald Russell voted in the affirmative. Dowe voted against the measure.
The senators also voted 6-1 to forward all the budget bills to the full Senate floor with a closed rule, meaning no amendments could be added to the bill. Berry, David, Canton, Hill, Jones, and Russell voted in the affirmative. Dowe voted against the closed rule.
The full Senate was debating the budget on Wednesday.
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