Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed all the major government budget bills and a plethora of legislation on topics from cyber crimes to Bush Tea on Tuesday, but warned that despite the budget approvals, the budget situation is dire and urged legislators to craft revenue-generating legislation.
“I urge you and members of the 30th Legislature to continue our mutual efforts to balance the Fiscal Year 2014 Executive Budget through further discussions with my financial team on the impact of the revenue and expenditure assumptions," deJongh wrote in a letter to the Legislature announcing his actions on the various pieces of legislation.
"The Fiscal Year 2014 Executive Budget has been stated ‘is a work in progress’ and, therefore, I stand ready to work with you to bridge the necessary revenue and expenditures gaps, to provide additional clarification where needed and to collaborate on those key matters directly challenging the territory," deJongh said.
DeJongh signed a bill increasing the penalty for those assaulting V.I. police officers with a weapon, saying the "men and women of the Virgin Islands Police Department put themselves in harm’s way every day. They deserve the utmost respect and the full protection of the law against threats to their unyielding efforts to protect and serve this community. Those who intend to harm our Police officers should understand the consequences of their actions and that the law will not make light of such conduct.”
He vetoed a bill that would have created enhanced criminal penalties for assaults against employees of the Education Department, saying it may be unconstitutional and that, if the goal is to increase the penalties for assaults that affect teachers in the performance of their duty, the bill should amend a different section of V.I. law.
"My administration is and always has been demonstrably concerned with the safety of the employees of the Department of Education and even more so in light of recent tragedies nationwide and locally," deJongh said in his letter. "I urge that we work together to draft a bill to achieve the intended purpose and properly withstand constitutional scrutiny,” he said.
The governor signed legislation requested on behalf of the V.I. Water and Power Authority that amends V.I. law to allow photovoltaic and solar thermal energy systems in certain locations in the territory, regardless of existing zoning rules.
“In so doing, it is consistent with my Administration’s oft-stated goal to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels," deJongh said, commending the Legislature for supporting efforts to increase the availability of renewable and alternative energy sources.
"This legislation, and similar measures, coupled with efforts by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to convert to alternative fuel sources, other investments by our residents in renewable and alternative energy generation, and the work of the Virgin Islands Energy Office will ensure we meet the year 2025 goal of 60 percent reduction in fossil fuel usage,” deJongh said.
DeJongh also signed legislation:
– exempting land transfers that occur in creating family trusts and in corporate mergers and sales from stamp tax;
– titled the Computer Crimes and Technology Act of 2013, which seeks to curtail computer trespassing, cyber harassment, cyber terrorism, unauthorized network manipulation and other technology related crimes;
– establishing a regulatory framework for the licensing of scrap metal dealers and recyclers in an effort to curb the surge of scrap metal stealing which the territory is experiencing;
– allowing residents to get a nondriving license government-issued identification card at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles;
– making it a crime to throw bodily wastes or fluids at Bureau of Corrections personnel or put such things in their food or drink;
– designating Room 201 of the Charles Wesley Turnbull Regional Library as the June Lindqvist Room;
– modernizing the territory’s laws pertaining to rape and sexual assault to protect residents from such acts by their spouses;
– making it a criminal offense for violent offenders to possess body armor;
– requiring the Territorial Parole Board to notify victims of the crime for which an individual has been incarcerated when that inmate will be released;
– expanding the zone within which a person who is convicted of possession of an unlicensed firearm may have his sentence enhanced;
– establishing a Revenue Estimating Conference to confer over the government’s revenues and produce estimates for the Legislature;
– increasing the Virgin Islands Housing Authority’s maximum home loan amount for veterans;
– making a minor amendment to how the period for receiving a service retirement annuity by a retiree re-entering government service is measured;
– authorizing the use of proceeds from the Series 2012 Bonds to purchase radios and improve tower communications for the Virgin Islands Police Department;
– strengthening V.I. consumer protection laws by expanding who may file class action suits and increasing potential penalties;
– allowing for the development of a plan for the publicly owned lands at Altona Lagoon, St. Croix, as a public park and recreational area;
– establishing the Queen Conch shell as the official sea shell of the Virgin Islands;
– authorizing the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to establish a Used Cooking Oil Certification Program to regulate the collection, storage and use of used cooking oil;
– allowing for a referendum vote on the issue of increasing the term of office of local senators from two to four years;
– naming Route 80 on St. Croix as “The Sydney Lee Road” in recognition of his commitment and contributions to the territory;
– approving the government’s purchase of Parcel 1-2 Estate Bovoni, Nos. 1 and 2 Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, St. Thomas;
– and naming the Julie Mango the Virgin Islands fruit of choice.
DeJongh vetoed legislation to create a single payer utility fund that would get line-item funding for utilities for each agency and pay WAPA directly. He said it would create an unnecessary bureaucratic layer in securing payment to the authority for utilities consumed by government agencies.
It "has the potential to adversely impact the current processes established by the Department of Finance to streamline the payment of utilities to WAPA by reverting to a more antiquated and time-consuming process," he said. As written, it would also have the unintended consequence of transferring responsibility for paying utilities for semi-autonomous agencies that pay their own bills, such as the V.I. Port Authority and the V.I. Lottery, back onto the General Fund and taxpayers.
"These same instrumentalities by and large fund and pay for utilities themselves without impact to the General Fund which continues to experience severe fiscal constraints," deJongh said.
DeJongh vetoed a bill giving peace officer status to the Legislature’s top security officers and sergeant of arms, saying it created two distinct classes of peace officers, with the Legislature officers only having that status while on duty.
"This is inconsistent with the purpose of granting peace officer status. The legislation also grants peace officer status to the governor’s security detail, which deJongh said was not needed because they already are peace officers "by virtue of their positions, training and certification.”
He similarly vetoed a bill seeking to confer peace officer status on V.I. Superior Court probation officers and V.I. Waste Management Authority enforcement officers. “I have vetoed this bill as neither the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands nor the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority have articulated any compelling reasons why peace officer status is required within the scope of their duties," he said.
It would also "adversely affect their current retirement contributions to the Government Employees Retirement System as their service requirement time would be reduced," he said.
DeJongh vetoed a bill containing a grab bag of measures aimed largely at increasing revenues, saying he approved of many of its elements but was not given an opportunity to use his line item veto. He objected to measures granting online gambling franchises to two "Master Service Providers," property tax discounts for paying old tax bills and eliminating the WMA’s responsibility for testing septic tanks.
Changing the V.I. code for internet gambling to award these two new Master Service Provider contracts "terminates certain vested rights to already awarded franchises and would cause the territory to retreat backwards to start the process anew," deJongh said. "This would be extremely unwise, particularly in an era where other jurisdictions are moving forward aggressively with such projects," he said.
He objected to the tax rebate program because it would let delinquent taxpayers discount their taxes by 60 percent, "essentially providing an incentive to avoid their financial obligations while law-abiding residents are being penalized for their timely payments."
"I acknowledge the balance that the senators are trying to achieve in this most difficult financial period for many of our residents, but we must be mindful of the sacrifice of many to be timely on their tax obligations and come to an equitable approach for all," he said.
The septic testing should not be repealed, but instead funded through VIWMA fees and charges, deJongh said.
DeJongh line-item vetoed a measure that would have increased an annual line of credit approved earlier this year from $40 million to $46 million, with $6 million slated for Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital. The line of credit is distinct from bond funding and long-term debt and must be paid off every year. Its purpose is to allow the government to smooth over cash flow problems as it awaits anticipated revenues.
DeJongh said he recognized the measure is well intended but "it would be unwise” to place the hospital in the unrealistic position of having to repay such a substantial short-term loan in the period of time required. But he said he "looked forward to meeting with the members to address the immediate needs" of both hospitals.
DeJongh acknowledged receipt of several resolutions which do not have the force of law. Most significant of these was a resolution making certain recommendations concerning the territory’s negotiations with Hovensa. Other resolutions not carrying the force of law would have:
– recognized the Virgin Islands as the “Bush Tea Capital of the Caribbean”;
– declared an energy crisis in the territory;
– recognized and honored James Alexander Johnson for his many years of dedicated service and contributions to the Virgin Islands community and the labor movement;
– posthumously honored boxer Emile Griffith for his contributions to the Virgin Islands;
– and recognized the contributions and accomplishments of the Virgin Islands National Guard.