March 14, 2005 As she predicted last week, Delegate Donna M. Christensen's bill to create a chief financial officer for the Virgin Islands passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously Monday afternoon.(See "Delegate's CFO Bill to Come to House Floor Monday").
She was also optimistic last week that it would make its way through the second step of the process and get passed by the Senate by the end of April. Although she has started work to pave the bill's way through the Senate by talking to Senators recently, she told the Source she was not sure how President George W. Bush felt about the bill. His signature would be required to make the bill law.
Representatives from the Department of Interior did testify against the bill when it was last before Congress, however, Christensen said she did not think those officials were vocalizing a stance that had been taken by the president.
Christensen has admitted that getting the bill through Congress is being made difficult by the opposition from the Interior Department and also from Gov. Charles Turnbull. In his State of the Territory speech this year, Turnbull called the bill a step backward and said Christensen should withdraw it.
Turnbull has called the bill a return to Colonialism Christensen has countered that the desperate shape of the V.I. finances and the government's growing debt smack more of Colonialism than her bill does.
On hearing of the passage of the bill, Turnbull released a statement from Miami where he is attending the Seatrade Conference on the Caribbean.
He wrote, "I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives Monday approved the bill proposed by Delegate Donna M. Christensen to create the Office of Chief Financial Officer of the Government of the Virgin Islands."
"Under Christensen's bill, the CFO would assume powers over budgeting and allocation of scarce resources that are reserved under the Revised Organic Act, to elected officials and, through them, to the people of the Virgin Islands. The CFO would virtually be immune from removal from office, and thus would be accountable to no one."
Christensen appears to have the support of most Virgin Islanders. Running partially on her advocacy of the bill, she managed to win re-election with a landslide. Ninety percent of Source readers who responded to an online questionnaire produced by the Source said the federal government had to step into help the Virgin Islands get control of its finances. (See "Poll: CFO Should Be up to Federal Officials").
The bill has gone through revisions to make it more palatable to all parties. (See "Reworked CFO Bill Has Cleared Just One Hurdle")
Christensen has said that the reason it did not make it through Congress last year was because it was introduced late. The bill Monday was passed along with the first Resources Committee bills introduced into this session.
In support of her bill, Christensen said, "It has become very clear that the people of the Virgin Islands recognize the need for more accountability, transparency and efficiency in the management of federal and local funding."
She added, "The implementation of an independent CFO is clearly not the only way to achieve it, but it is the only viable proposal that has come forth over the last eight or more years of increasing deficits and narrowly averted fiscal crises, which have only been delayed through repeated borrowing."
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