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Budget Package Finally Is Approved

Oct. 4,2004 — Four days into fiscal year 2005, the 25th Legislature approved a $567.5 million budget Monday afternoon.
The budget covers the operating expenses of the executive, legislative and judicial branches along with the operating expenses of the University of the Virgin Islands and WTJX-Public Television.
The executive branch including the miscellaneous section gets the lion's share at $497.2 million; $40.6 million is appropriated for the legislative and judicial branches, $27.5 million for UVI and $2.06 million for WTJX.
After more than a week of debating and caucusing, the executive budget was approved with a 14-1 vote. Sen. Adlah Donastorg was the only one opposed to the budget.
Donastorg took issue to an amendment to the budget bill reducing the amount of money set aside for refunds to 5 percent from 10 percent.
"It's a sad day for me," Donastorg said, adding that he had fought hard and long to ensure the government would not fall behind in its tax refund payments. Donastorg claims the reduction of the set-aside would hinder the government from paying refunds in a timely manner. (See "Income Tax Refunds in Jeopardy, Senator Warns" ).
Donastorg said the budget sent down by the Finance Committee, which he chairs was "balanced" and sufficient because it reduced vacant positions, which had not been filled in years and provided the $9.2 million for union workers' negotiated raises.
Sen. Roosevelt David, addressing the income tax issue, said there was "more than enough money" in the General Fund to pay the refunds next year.
The Legislature budget, after being amended from $16 million to $16.5 million, was approved with a 13-2 vote. Sen. Celestino White and Donastorg voted against the measure.
White called for raises for the legislative employees and tried to pass an amendment for an FM microwave to allow live viewing of St. Croix sessions, but was voted down. Instead the senators voted to approve the amendment by Senate President David Jones to increase the Legislature's budget to $16.5 million.
After questioning by Sen. Ronald Russell, Jones said the increase would go toward raises for legislative employees and the microwave. However, nowhere did the legislation state that.
Jones' amendment also allowed an increase from five years to 30 years for the proposed Veteran's Center to receive tax abatements from the government; an appropriation of $957,921 for insurance payments on government buildings and property and a section authorizing ATM holders to charge no more than $2.50 per transaction for foreign accounts.
Post Auditor Annette Heyliger said the money for the insurance payments of government property would be paid out of the General Fund. Heyliger added the money would be there because of "increased projected revenues." No changes were made to the Rules Committee budget to account for this new appropriation, which senators had claimed Friday would cause them to "redo" the budget. (See "FY 2005 Budget: Third Time Not a Charm" ).
The Senate unanimously approved a $23.3 million appropriation for the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands and a $2.5 million appropriation for the Territorial Public Defender.
Also approved Monday were:
– A bill appropriating $1 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Crisis Intervention Fund,
– A bill appropriating $200,000 from the Interest Revenue Fund as a contribution to the General Fund.
As the hearing drew to a close senators became emotional as they bade Jones farewell and wished him well in his future endeavors. Jones wiped tears from his eyes as he thanked his colleagues. Sen. Luther Renee also had a sad look on his face as he looked around the Earle B. Legislative Hall one last time. This was the last full Senate session for both Jones and Renee, who were knocked out of the Senate race in the primary election.
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