Gov. John deJongh Jr. vetoed a bill that expanded the types of businesses eligible for deep tax breaks through the V.I. Research and Technology Park, while acting on an array of legislation Friday.
The bill was initially proposed by Government House, to change the name of the Government Development Bank to the Economic Development Bank and merging the GDB with the Small Business Development Agency, but the Legislature amended it during session to expand and redefine the sorts of businesses that are eligible for tax breaks, to include effectively any business that conducts any business online.
In vetoing the measure, deJongh said the amendments "are objectionable to the extent that not only do they radically alter the policies and procedures of both the RT Park and the government generally with respect to encouraging economic development through the targeted use of tax incentives, they contain substantial drafting errors that would and should be corrected if an appropriate process is implemented for such revisions of law as may be deemed needed and affordable."
In a separate letter about the veto, deJongh said the amendments radically change the program, putting it at greater risk of federal intervention and changes to the rules governing how and if the territory can offer tax breaks.
"Moreover, the amendments seek to make permanent what may well prove to be an improper grant of benefits to Internet service providers that have cost – and will cost – our treasury dearly. This last action not only unilaterally took tax-paying entities off the tax rolls but has put smaller and locally owned and managed businesses at a very unfair disadvantage in this new and developing industry by forcing them to compete against larger companies which do not have to pay the taxes the smaller businesses must pay," deJongh said.
DeJongh exercised a line item veto over sections of a bill changing the amount of funding for expenses related to the ongoing closure and sales process of Hovensa from $6 million to $1.5 million, saying it was a large departure from his request to only reduce it to $4.9 million. He line item vetoed another passage of the same bill that decreases the overall budget for the two shovel-ready track projects for the public schools on St. Croix by $500,000, saying it diverts funds to projects which are only in the conceptual phase.
He also vetoed a bill containing a 50 percent increase in the percentage of real property taxes, from 4 percent to 6 percent, to be deposited into each island’s respective street lighting account. "I cannot support a further diversion of General Fund revenues at a time when the Legislature has not yet addressed our current deficit. Moreover, even this increase would be inadequate to completely address fully our street lighting expenses," he said.
The governor vetoed a bill that codifies the Parents-Students School Participation Program, which deJongh said has existed as a public school program since 1996 and which was extended to private and parochial schools in 1998. "I would be pleased to sign it into law were it not for the fact that in an apparently inadvertent discrepancy, rather than repealing the relevant section of Act No. 6246, the Legislature chose to repeal the entirety of Act No. 6246 of which this program was but one section," deJongh said. "To approve such repeal would result in eviscerating our scholarship program for graduating valedictorians and salutatorians, and also removing an indispensable program requiring drug testing for all peace officers. I cannot countenance such a result, not even in reliance upon the Legislature to reenact those critical programs in the near future," deJongh said.
DeJongh vetoed a bill sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens to give voters the right to vote early at their elections office, starting 14 days and ending three days before the election. An amendment to the bill also mandated the Joint Board of Elections to select, fund, purchase, receive and use a third set of machines in this fall’s elections. DeJongh said he supported the bill, but it was too close to the election and so would violate federal law.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Donald Cole mandates the Joint Boards of Election "adopt for use as the primary voting system in the Virgin Islands direct recording electronic voting machines.” This would require machines to replace both digital ballot tabulators purchased last year and the old 1980s vintage machines they replaced.
"I must once again veto a bill amending our election laws within six months immediately preceding the date of a General Election except in compliance with a court order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction," deJongh said. "Despite being strongly in favor of providing the widest possible capacity for voters to exercise their right to vote, approving Bill No. 30-0357 would violate clearly established law and would be inconsistent with my previous actions on legislation whose enactment would take place within the prohibited timeframe," deJongh said.
DeJongh approved legislation:
– to allow household-sized solar and wind power producers to continue net-metering excess power to the Water and Power Authority at retail price, but limiting larger producers to a smaller "Feed In Tariff" payment reflecting WAPA’s costs;
– to waive excise taxes on materials brought in for alternative power production and waive gross receipts taxes on income derived from net metering or the aforementioned Feed In Tariff;
– to prohibit selling electronic nicotine vaporizers as well as chewing tobacco, snuff and other consumable tobacco products to minors;
– to take whatever funds from captive insurance remain "after all administrative expenses and documented expenses" and split it between the two hospitals;
– assign health insurance payments directly to the provider;
– establish that the Department of Education must incorporate bully prevention and gang resistance education and training in all grades;
– place a provision in the Farmers Market Technology Improvement Program so farmers could accept electronic benefits transfer cards from SNAP recipients to pay for vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and dairy products;
– task the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency with setting up a system of call boxes located in relatively high traffic areas where they might be needed;
– require health insurance providers to cover treatment for autism spectrum disorders and hearing aids;
– require an assessment of cadastral and land records housed in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor;
– put uniform language into the local law governing certifying public accountants;
– create a framework for pharmacists to deliver vaccinations;
– bring V.I. public accountancy laws into compliance with the provisions recommended by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy in conjunction with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Virgin Islands Board of Public Accountancy;
– and allow members of the Nurse Licensure Board to continue serving after their terms expire.
DeJongh also approved several zoning measures:
– rezoning Plot Nos. 148 and 149-C Estate Carlton, St. Croix from R-3 (Residential – Medium Density) to B-3 (Business-Scattered); Bill No. 30-0354, rezoning Plot Nos. 293-1, 293-2 and 293-3 Estate Barren Spot, St. Croix from R-2 (Residential – Low Density – One and Two Family) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood);
– granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 3 Estate Mafolie, No. 8F Northside Quarter, St. Thomas to allow for professional offices; Bill No. 30-0360, rezoning Parcel No. 43 Second Division Estate Thomas, St. Thomas, from R-2 (Residential – Low Density – One and Two Family) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood);
– rezoning Parcel No. 68D, Estate Lindberg Bay, St. Thomas from P (Public) to (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood);
– granting a zoning use variance for Parcels Nos. 15 and 15B Remainder Estate Smith Bay, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 East End Quarter, St. Thomas, to allow for professional offices and repealing Act No. 7173;
– granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 41-4-6 Estate Frydenhoj, No. 3 Red Hook Quarter, St. Thomas, to allow for a guesthouse;
– rezoning Parcel No. 159A Estate Submarine Base, No. 6 South Side Quarter, St. Thomas, from P (Public) to I-1 (Heavy-Industry);
– rezoning Plot No. 246-L Estate Glynn, St. Croix, from A-2 (Agriculture Zone) to R-2 (Residential – Low Density – One and Two-Family);
– and granting a zoning use variance for Plot No. 18-D Estate Plessen, St. Croix, to allow for water distribution and the operation of a small guest house.