Convention OKs Balanced Budget Requirement

Sept. 12, 2008 — Draft language approved Thursday for the Virgin Islands constitution requires the governor to submit a balanced budget to the Legislature every two years.
Continuing a string of workmanlike word crafting sessions by all the committees, the committee of the Fifth Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention handling the executive branch meeting at the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Croix discussed suggestions returned from the last plenary session, voted on whether to change their drafts accordingly and buttoned down the language where needed.
Like all the committees over the past few weeks, chairman Michael Thurland read draft language for the sections they are entrusted with, bringing back notes from the whole convention for debate. The committee took the draft apart line by line, voting to approve, change or remove parts, and if in need of more information, to hold back the portion for further consideration. The role and powers of the governor will be very similar to the current ones established by federal and local law, with some differences such as allowing biennial budgets.
"I am not opposed, but I want to know the reasoning for extending the budget to two years," delegate Eugene "Doc" Petersen said.
"Delegate (Clement) Magras came up with that," committee chairman Michael Thurland said. "We relied on his expertise from working in the budget office. He said they already plan three to five years ahead and craft their annual budgets from their longer term projections."
Many boards and organizations also run budget projections for three to five years at a time, he said.
"We didn't see a problem but some said they didn't want to limit him or her so he couldn't put in an annual budget," he said.
The governor and lieutenant governor will also have to be U.S. citizens of 35 years of age, Virgin Islanders and a resident of the territory for fifteen years, including the ten immediately before taking office.
What being a Virgin Islander for the purpose of this section will have to wait on the work of the citizenship committee, Thurland said.
Delegates' views on the role of the lieutenant governor were still in flux. Currently the lieutenant governor's office is responsible for oversight of banking, insurance, corporate trademarks, recording of deeds and other line functions, while also serving a partly ceremonial role as the governor's second in command. Draft constitutional language currently gives the lieutenant governor only ceremonial duties. Thurland said he may submit language codifying the current duties within the constitution.
Delegate Mary Moorhead suggested a different role, taking into account the historic pattern of having a governor from one district and a lieutenant governor from the other.
"I think the lieutenant governor should be in charge of his or her district, instead of having a district administrator," Moorhead said. Several delegates said they believed oversight over banking and the other codified responsibilities of the lieutenant governor should be vested in a cabinet member such as a secretary of state, to ensure the person is chosen for their specialized expertise.
Delegate Violette Anne Golden was one who took that position. She went further than others, suggesting eliminating the position altogether, arguing it is superfluous.
The passages on the lieutenant governor were held in committee for more review. The approved portions will be reviewed at the next plenary session, scheduled for Sept. 23 at 7:30 a.m. in the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center auditorium.
Present at Thursday's hearing were: Thurland; Golden, Petersen, Stedman Hodge, Jr. and Alecia Wells. Absent were Charles Turnbull, Richard Schrader, Gerard Luz James II and Lisa Williams.
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