May 12, 2007 — A series of appropriations bills approved during last month's legislative session recently got the axe from Gov. John deJongh Jr., who, in a letter sent to Senate President Usie R. Richards, cited the need to exercise "sound fiscal management practices" in light of the government's projected General Fund shortfall.
While deJongh said that he agreed with the intent behind many of the bills, he also explained that the territory's already strained revenues could not bear the weight of the accompanying appropriations in fiscal year 2007. However, he added that some of the proposals are included in the upcoming FY 2008 budget, or could be subsidized through various federal funds and programs.
One of the bills deJongh vetoed in its entirety was special-ordered to the Senate floor during a session held on April 18. During the meeting, senators spent about 30 minutes attaching amendments to the bill, which, at the end of the evening, made about $5.1 million worth of appropriations and several significant changes to the V.I. Code (See "Wednesday's Full Session Marked by Late Flurry of Amendments").
DeJongh made his opinion clear on several of the amendments, including one which seeks to add an additional delegate to the upcoming Constitutional Convention and allow local residents living abroad to vote throughout the process via absentee ballot.
"The deletion of residency requirements for qualification of voters runs afoul of Section 4 of the Revised Organic Act, which vests the voting franchise in residents of the Virgin Islands who are United States citizens," deJongh wrote.
He added that current V.I. law also stipulates that residents may currently vote for up to 13 delegates in their district. "Thus, non-resident Virgin Islanders who qualify as voters under the proposed amendment would not be able to vote for the majority of delegates positions to the convention," deJongh explained.
The bill itself appropriates $400,000 from local GARVEE bond proceeds to the V.I. Port Authority for the construction of a Customs facility at the Red Hook dock — a proposal that deJongh said has not been presented, as required, to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.
"This is required before the subject GARVEE bonds may be utilized," deJongh wrote. "It also appears that the PFA (Public Finance Authority) was not consulted for a determination of whether the permission of the bondholders is required for the expenditure, and, if so, whether such bondholders have consented to this use of funds."
Line-item vetoes also ran rampant throughout deJongh's letter to Richards, as certain sections of various bills were either approved or cut out.
DeJongh, for example, said he would be approving a portion of a bill reprogramming $2.9 million from existing PFA funds for the construction of the much-discussed Leonardo "Nardo" Trotman Drive on St. Thomas, but would be vetoing other sections of the bill that use General Fund revenues to cover the cost of other proposed projects.
DeJongh's veto stamp did not extend, however, to three of the proposed bills — and one amendment — which, among other things, calls for the establishment of a magistrate division within the V.I. Superior Court.
"I have approved this measure, as it is clear that the implementation of a Magistrate's Division with the Superior Court is absolutely required to give effect to the right of our citizens to access the courts for a prompt disposition of legal disputes," deJongh wrote. "This measure also comports with our stated goal of improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system."
However, deJongh also suggested that senators make two minor additions to the bill — one setting the initial term of service for magistrate judges, and another that allows the division to begin hearing cases on Jan. 1, 2008.
DeJongh also approved bills: a) requiring the V.I. Housing Finance Authority and the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation to make quarterly reports to the Legislature regarding the status of available-housing opportunities in the territory; and b) requiring that individuals appointed for government boards and commissions may not be employed by the board for which they serve.
DeJongh also acknowledged resolutions passed by the Senate that award the V.I. Medal of Honor to Lt. Col. David Canegata III and Sgt. First Class Floyd Lake, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq in late January. Another resolution also honors the contributions of the Sebastien Majorettes and Marching Band.
Other bills vetoed by deJongh:
–authorizes the governor to implement flex-time, or staggered, work schedules for employees and promulgate rules and regulations for the flex-time policy (in his letter to Richards, deJongh called this bill "superfluous," since the executive branch is already authorized to implement flex-time policies);
— allows the director of Personnel to sign off on all notices of personnel action (NOPAs) and terminations or suspensions for nonexempt, classified government employees (in his letter, deJongh explained that this bill, as written, does not differentiate between classified and unclassified employees);
— appropriates $250,000 from the General Fund to WAPA to conduct a pilot solar-powered street-lighting program on St. Croix;
— mandates that 4 percent of delinquent property taxes collected on each island go into the respective district's street-lighting and potable water accounts; and
— appropriates $400,000 a year for three years to the Department of Education for the summer science and humanities enrichment program.
DeJongh also vetoed a bill designed to provide financial assistance to the V.I. Water and Power Authority. While deJongh explained some of the appropriations contained in the bill, once again, take money from the General Fund, he also said that some of the bill's provisions should be revisited at a later date.
As currently written, the bill: a) reduce some of the fees WAPA pays annually to the PSC; b) appropriates $200,000 from the commission's annual assessment fees to cover the cost of an interconnection feasibility study; and c) mandates that small power producers and co-generation facilities absorb all application and certification costs associated with becoming a qualified power producer.
"The current scenario, under which WAPA and its ratepayers are required to cover 100 percent of the interconnection costs. is patently inequitable and must be revisited," deJongh wrote.
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