On Thursday during its monthly meeting, the V.I. Government Employees Retirement System governing board members decried legislation passed by the Legislature on Tuesday which directed GERS take $2.5 million remaining from money appropriated for employer pension contributions and make cash bonus payments to government employees.
"It is my contention the contributions of employees and employers that pertain to active members belongs to GERS and should not be returned to anyone," said board member Edgar Ross, a retired judge.
The $2.5 million is money set aside for employee contributions to the pension plan as part of a $45 million retroactive salary payment approved by the Legislature in 2007 [Act 6984]. A subsequent act [Act 7394] directed that roughly $6 million remaining of that sum be used for "paying the Government employer outstanding contribution to the Government Employees Retirement System."
Although the text of the act does not specify, the intent expressed by its sponsors, Sens. Celestino White and Carlton "Ital" Dowe, during the hearing was that the sum go to pay the outstanding employer contributions that were delaying a number of pensions (See ‘Quagmire’ Delayed GERS’ Filing of Applications in related links below).
GERS determined it had about $2.5 million remaining after those particular employer contributions were made.
At the last minute Tuesday before voting on the principal budget bill funding all executive agencies, the Senate attached a long, grab-bag amendment with provisions ranging from a $4,000 appropriation for cafeteria chairs to a waiver on all gross receipts taxes to gasoline and fuel purchased by the Water and Power Authority. The section that is raising concerns for Ross and other GERS board members reads "the sum of $2,541,826.35 paid to GERS for employee contributions in accordance with Section 2 of Act No. 6984 shall be refunded by GERS to government employees."
"I think what we are doing now is giving away monies that belong to GERS without doing the proper pension contributions," Ross said "Employee contributions that pertain to active members belong to GERS and should not be returned to anyone," he said.
Noting that the measure was just approved and awaits the governor’s signature, members discussed whether the board should take some official stance or action.
Board Chairman Raymond James said he would ask legal counsels for GERS and the GERS board to review the legislation.
"We should at least put on the record our objections," James said.
No votes were taken on the matter. All board members were present.