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Saturday, June 3, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesSenate OKs Governor's $87 Million Bond Bill

Senate OKs Governor's $87 Million Bond Bill

After 12 hours of plowing through the same testimony and rehashing many of the same issues brought up during a Committee of the Whole hearing held two months ago, senators closed out Thursday’s special session by approving the governor’s proposed $87 million bond authorization bill.
But not before they introduced a four-page amendment to the bill, which surfaced in about the last 30 minutes of the meeting. The amendment slashes by a total $1.7 million funds earmarked for the new V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency building and some maintenance projects under the Education Department, along with increasing by about $1.6 million the amount of money in the bill’s "other critical capital projects" category.
Members of the governor’s financial team have said at previous meetings that the $15 million earmarked in that category would basically be used as a "cushion," covering any cost overruns, change orders and other unexpected expenses associated with the long list of capital projects expected to be funded by the bond proceeds.
The amendment, however, put the now $16.6 million toward specific projects, which include installing potable water lines, constructing police substations on St. Croix, fixing various playgrounds and ball fields and upgrading facilities at several public schools, among other things.
The introduction of the amendment ignited a powder-keg of insults, objections, motions, majority-minority squabbling and a last-minute attempt by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to repeal the controversial Act 6905 that was later shot down by Senate President Louis P. Hill.
The amendment passed on a 10-to-five vote, with Sens. Craig Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Hill, Wayne James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Michael Thurland, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams voting in favor.
Voting against the amendment was Donastorg and Sens. Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards and Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly.
All the while, members of the governor’s financial team, cabinet and representatives from just about every government agency gathered in the gallery or sat on the floor, watching.
And for the preceding 11 hours, they sat, answering questions about a bill they said would, among other things, prevent the government from firing employees in the wake of a now $200 million budget shortfall.
Senators’ used their time to discuss everything from road repairs to bringing affordable housing to Water Island, and kept referring back to a two-year old bill to put security measures in place at Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s private residence on St. Thomas.
A few weeks ago, Donastorg circulated a bid schedule and $156,000 bill for security fencing, a guardhouse and related work at the governor’s house. On Thursday, he used the issue to put Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls on the spot, firing questions and comments about the improvements that were later echoed by Nelson and Rivera-O’Reilly.
A tour of the islands would show guard houses still standing at the private residences of former Govs. Roy Schneider, Charles Turnbull and Juan Luis, who all lived at the governor’s mansion, while the deJonghs do not.
Responding to the comments, Smalls said the resolution was in the "hands of the Legislature." Senators could pass a bill if they didn’t like it, he added.
Meanwhile, deJongh’s plea for the Senate to act on the bonding bill as soon as possible wasn’t dealt with until about 10:30 p.m.
Voting for the bond authorization were Barshinger, Dowe, Hill, Wayne James, Malone, Sanes, Sprauve, Thurland, White and Williams.
Voting against it were Donastorg, Neville James, Nelson, Richards and Rivera-O’Reilly.
In a separate vote, senators also approved the second section of the bill, which makes clear that timeshares are removed from usury limitations under the V.I. Code.
"The first timeshare occurred in the territory in 1983 — since that time, there have been tens of millions of dollars in contracts over these years that were signed operating under the assumption that the statue did not apply," explained attorney George Dudley. "If it did apply, we would have tens of millions of dollars in existing debt . . . that’s why we’re simply having the Senate confirm that it … did not intend to have the statute apply to timeshare contracts."
All senators were present during Thursday’s special session.

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