As the Legislature, the executive branch and delegate to Congress all scramble to find more money for the beleaguered Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, there is "one weird trick" to give the hospital a million dollars or more: The V.I. Legislature could give the hospital the couple of million dollars in lottery profits it usually gives to government retirees as cash Christmas gifts every year.
In 2008, the V.I. Legislature enacted legislation creating the cash Christmas gifts for retirees. The law’s title says it serves to "allow for a cost of living increase in the annuitants’ pensions," and in its internal explanation cites inflation. Contradicting its own title, the law has no connection to cost of living and is not a pension increase.
The legislation [Act 7070] actually calls for $2.27 million from lottery revenues to be spent on the cash gifts to retirees, but has been limited by available lottery revenues. Last year it was about $1.1 million, with retirees getting checks of between $100 and $200.
That is a nice little check before Christmas that I’m sure those 8,000 voters – I mean pensioners – really appreciate. But even if every government agency had not seen several years of back-to-back budget cuts and schools in dire need of maintenance and other resources, this year in particular, surely JFL needs the money more than those loyal voters need a small cash gift.
Last year, the Source bemoaned that in the midst of a budget crisis, the Senate’s priority was cash gifts to a reliable voting bloc. "(A)s the government scrambles to deal with reduced revenue projections for the upcoming year, are small cash gifts to former government employees (and reliable voters) really the best use of this million dollars in lottery gambling revenue? Obviously not," we said then. (See: This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things)
"Has anyone at the Legislature, Government House or GERS suggested forgoing the cash gifts to every member of this block of older voters and, instead, say, use it to keep St. Croix’s only hospital open? Of course not. And this is why we cannot have nice things," we concluded.
True last year, it is yet more true today. Senators, please, let’s "use it to keep St. Croix’s only hospital open."