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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Senate Changes Fuel Taxes

Gas at the pump may be slightly cheaper than it would have been and the V.I. Water and Power Authority may get some help purchasing more fuel efficient generators due to a bill passed by the V.I. Legislature Thursday.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and six other senators, would increase fuel tax from seven cents to 14 cents, while eliminating the current 6 percent excise tax on imported gasoline and diesel. The 6 percent tax has not been collected because gasoline and diesel was being produced within the territory at Hovensa refinery, which will cease supplying gasoline at the end of June.

If the tax remained on the books, when the territory starts importing gasoline in quantity, gas prices would increase some 21 cents more per gallon, Dowe emphasized, speaking in support of the measure.

The bill would then allocate those fuel tax revenues to purchase new, more efficient power generating units in both districts and help WAPA secure bond financing, all of which should lower fuel consumption, and hence lower customer’s bills, currently among the highest in the nation.

Dowe offered an amendment to the bill, clarifying that it applies only to fuel brought into the territory for domestic sale and use. Dowe said he wanted the bill to make clear that "whatever negotiations are taking place with Hovensa, this will not impact them."

"I want to make clear if Hovensa brings gas in to be used in the territory, that is one thing, but if that gas is to be exported, that is another. But this bill does not affect that," Dowe said.

After some wrangling over wording, the amendment and the bill were approved. Voting yea on both the amendment and bill were Dowe, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Louis Hill, Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Shawn-Michael Malone, Usie Richards, Ronald Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve, Usie Richards, Celestino White, Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen voted nay on the amendment and the bill.

"This will be the most significant thing we do this entire legislative term," Dowe said.

V.I. public schools will start two weeks earlier and finish the first semester before Christmas, no later than the 2013-14 school year, if another bill passed Thursday is signed into law by the governor.

Sen. Neville James, the bill’s sponsor, said finishing up exams after the long holiday puts students at a disadvantage. When he sponsored the measure, he was thinking particularly of the needs of St. Croix, where many students take part in Crucian Christmas Festival activities that time of year, he said, but he appreciated concerns raised in committee hearings that the entire territory be treated the same.

When the bill was considered in committee, James said he would be supportive of an amendment making it territorywide, but preferred a St. Thomas senator make the motion, and Thursday, White obliged. The amendment and bill were passed unanimously.

The Agriculture in the Classroom Act, sponsored by Nelson, also got the nod from the full Senate. The law seeks to increase students’ interest in agriculture as a career, help prepare future farmers to be successful, and – over the long term – help the territory produce more health-promoting local foods.

Under the bill, the finance commissioner would establish an Agriculture in the Classroom Fund, into which a $50,000 General Fund appropriation would be deposited every year.

The senate also passed bills:
– sponsored by from Millin-Young, designating February to be V.I. Heart Health Month and Feb. 3 as "National Wear Red Day for Women" in the territory;
– designating August 7 as "Purple Heart Day" to honor wounded veterans, sponsored by White, Sanes and Sprauve;
– from Hansen, asking the federal government to give the territory an extra $640 million over the next two years, in the form of a $270 million per year, a two-year subsidy for the fuel portion of residents’ utility bills, and $100 million "to create alternative energy solutions to the energy crisis…";
– from Malone, Russell and Sanes to make the language in V.I. Code consistent with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, by replacing phrases such as "handicapped individuals" with preferred formulations that are regarded as more respectful, such as "individuals with disabilities."

The Senate also approved a request from Joseph Hodge to rezone 30 lots on 10 acres in Estate Smith Bay from A-1 (Agricultural District) to R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family). The rezoning would allow the owner to build "around 60 energy efficient dwelling units," engineer James Bernier testified during committee hearings.

It gave the nod as well to a Coastal Zone Management permit to Barbra Harris and Gregory and Maxine Wetanson to continue using an existing 66-foot L-shaped pier with a gazebo in Estate Chocolate Hole.

Several nonbinding resolutions and ceremonial honors were also approved Thursday and are discussed elsewhere in the Source today.

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