Paid and elected V.I. government officials, the governor’s cabinet members and judges will be considered for pay raises every four years, with pay ranges recommended by a temporary, voluntary compensation committee, if a bill sent on Wednesday by the Senate Rules Committee becomes law.
Sen. Neville James, the Senate president, praised Sen. Positive Nelson for introducing the measure.
"It’s no secret that the Virgin Islands needs a public officials compensation commission for a number of reasons," James said. "First of all, the Revised Organic Act is some 60-plus years old," and that act gives salary setting authority solely to the Legislature, he said. That has led to controversy and politicization of pay in the past, James said.
"Everyone knows of the infamous Act 6905," James said.
That act put the Senate under intense criticism in 2007 and 2008, quietly enacting very large pay increases for itself and larger ones for the governor and lieutenant governor at the end of a late night session at the end of 2006. Act 6905 increased the governor’s salary from $80,000 to $150,000; the lieutenant governor’s salary from $75,000 to $125,000; and those of senators from $65,000 to $85,000 – with a bit more for Senate leaders.
Some senators publicly said they wanted to repeal the act, but legislation to do so was kept from consideration by anonymous "preemption," where a senator had similar legislation, but would not introduce it in committee. (See: Still No Senate Action to Repeal Unpopular Pay Raises in Related Links below)
James recalled the controversy led to a failed recall effort against four senators, including himself.
Most states have compensation commissions, he said, noting that "one wrinkle in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the Legislature has to approve compensation changes," because of language in the federal Revised Organic Act of 1954.
A commission may not be able to set salaries directly but it would be able to make recommendations, which the Legislature could act upon, which James suggested would take some of the politics and controversy out of the process.
"Ultimately, I look forward to the day when the ability to set salaries… the dollar figure is taken out of the Legislature and all we have to do is approve or disapprove the recommendations. Because truth be told, we could change salaries for everybody at any time and there is something wrong with that," James said.
If it comes to pass, the commission would be formed in January 2017, with nine members: three appointed by the president of the Legislature; three by the governor; and three by the V.I. Supreme Court’s chief justice. It would be a temporary commission, disbanded after it makes its recommendations.
Regular government employees would not be affected, only political appointees, elected officials and judges.
Voting to send the pay commission bill on to the Senate floor for a final vote were: James, Sens. Jean Forde, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, Novelle Francis, Justin Harrigan, Janette Millin Young and Kenneth Gittens. There was no opposition.