The V.I. Legislature approved a grab bag of measures largely aimed at raising revenues late Monday night, in hopes of staving off at least some cuts to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget it just passed due to declining revenue projections.
One measure directs the Internal Revenue Bureau to assign two employees to investigate and collect room taxes from hotel and inn keepers of residences that are rented out. It sets a $10,000 fine for not paying hotel tax on private homes rented by the week, month or season.
"We miss out on approximately $10 million a year, possibly more, from villa owners who rent for up to $1,500 per week and are going under the radar," said Sen. Craig Barshinger.
During budget hearings in August, IRB Director Claudette Watson-Anderson told senators that there was no active enforcement and investigation of condo owners because of staffing limitations and limited returns.
Another section of the bill would allow long-delinquent taxpayers to discount their old property tax bills by 25 to 60 percent, depending on how old the bills are and how quickly they pay, if they pay within 180 days. The goal is to raise revenue by creating an incentive to pay right away.
Sen. Diane Capehart said, "This will address people who have been unable to pay their property taxes from way back. Some people just don’t have the money to pay their entire bill at once."
Barshinger said changes to gambling laws for licensing online gambling could bring in "up to $50 million" in new tax revenues. There was little discussion and no data presented. The bill changes V.I. gambling laws by clarifying the V.I. Casino Control Commission’s role in licensing and regulating internet gambling.
It allows the commission to issue two Master Service Provider licenses, one in the district of St. Croix and one in the district of St. Thomas and St. John. These companies would have up to 10-year contracts as exclusive providers of internet gambling in each district – a seemingly anachronistic approach to regulating internet-based businesses by guaranteeing monopolies based on geographical location of the online business.
The bill also adds airports, seaports and hospitals to a list of types of small power producing facilities. It would enable the V.I. Public Services Commission to direct utilities to purchase excess power produced by those facilities, as well as power produced at educational facilities, as existing law allows.
Another section changes a 2012 law setting aside 7 cents per gallon of fuel tax for new power generation. The existing law says, "Monies shall be disbursed from the fund by the commissioner of Finance upon the authorization of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority for the exclusive purpose of:" – and then lists types of power production.
The new version says, "The Commissioner of Finance shall disburse monies in the fund to the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority on a quarterly basis. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority shall hold all monies disbursed under this subsection in a separate account to be used exclusively for…," preceding the same list of types of power production.
It also adds to the list of projects WAPA can use the above fund for, so WAPA can use those funds to help convert its generators to run on liquefied natural gas and other fuels.
Other measures in the bill:
– allow executive agencies that oversee federal Community Development Block Grants to allocate the grant funds without Legislative approval, which senators said would help agencies use the money more flexibly and reduce the risk of sending any funding back;
– allow part of a Fiscal Year 2014 $1 million appropriation from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to be used by the V.I. Waste Management Authority to build a recycling convenience center, along with preserving ruins and establishing a trust to purchase and make a park of Coral Bay Parcel 7 Remainder, on St. John;
– appropriates $150,000 from the General Fund for cultural and historical activities;
– increase the V.I. Centennial Commission, responsible for planning the 2017 commemoration of Transfer Day, from 10 to 17 members, and lays out a complex system of rules for how many residents of each island, who appoints different members, and what private clubs must be represented on the volunteer commission;
– cap personal injury and property damage judgments against the VIWMA and the V.I. Port Authority at $75,000;
– repeal a requirement that the VIWMA inspect all septic tanks in the territory. Provisions giving the Department of Planning and Natural Resources responsibility for initially inspecting and licensing septic tanks remain in place, as do laws prohibiting faulty septic tanks.
Voting for the bill were Barshinger, Capehart, Sens. Donald Cole, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Shawn-Michael Malone, Clarence Payne, Sammuel Sanes and Janette Millin Young. Voting no were Sens. Judi Buckley, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Terrence "Positive" Nelson. Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly was absent.
The Senate also passed a bill to allow utility scale solar power production regardless of zoning at several specific locations. The bill was requested by companies seeking to build large solar production facilities for WAPA. The original bill allowed such use anywhere in any zoning area. An amendment from Malone restricted the exception to the specific sites the company is seeking to build on, which are:
– Plot 1 and 2 Estate Hartmann, St. Croix, with 40 acres, on Southside Road;
– Remainder, Petronella, St. Croix, with about 70 acres, on the east side of Rt. 624;
– Remainder Plot 2, Estate Hogensberg, Prince Quarter, with 31.16 acres;
– Remainder Plot 3, Estate Hogensberg, with 52.52 acres;
– Remainder Plot 3 D. Estate Hogensberg, with 7.15 acres;
– Remainder Plot 3, Estate Spanish Town, St. Croix;
– and Estate Donoe, Lot 1-14, St. Thomas.
Other bills approved Monday:
– reduce the size of the Casino Control Commission from five members to three – the number it actually has;
– approve the purchase of Parcel no. 1-2 Estate Bovoni, no. 1 and 2 Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, St. Thomas, and the acceptance of a 5 percent undivided interest in Bovoni Cay for the territory’s park system;
– honor the V.I. National Guard;
– and change some FY13 appropriations to reflect subsequent appropriations bills for accounting purposes.