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Monday, August 8, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesLEAGUE BACKS FLAWED ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

LEAGUE BACKS FLAWED ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

The Senate majority's highly touted "Government Financial Accountability Act" on the whole now has support from the League of Women Voters, despite the group's finding fault with many of the details of the bill. "Fiscal accountability has been a consistent demand of the League," LWV President Erva Denham wrote to Senate President Vargrave Richards this week.
While a League committee "has carefully reviewed this bill and finds much to commend…we are, however, concerned that in a number of instances the language used is ambiguous and may permit unintended interpretation," she wrote.
Denham told St. Thomas Source the League is also concerned that the bill does not provide for the Inspector General's Office to be an autonomous agency.
"This was a major part of the original draft of bill no. 0059," she wrote. "It was nine pages of the original bill. We want to know what happened to it. Is it going to be redrafted?"
Denham went on to say, "It is what gave teeth to the bill."
The Senate Rules Committee reported favorably on the bill last month and has sent it to the full Legislature for consideration.
The LWV supported what it called two "long overdue" provisions of the bill; one makes a balanced budget mandatory and the other legally recognizes that positions funded by federal grants expire the same time the grants do.
Other provisions in the act that the LWV backed included increasing from two to five the number of years of government service required to move from exempt to classified status, permitting the V.I. Port Authority to make its own decisions on leases, excluding future principal and interest payments on bonds from the estimated annual total government debt, and allowing the Government Employees Retirement System to name its own treasurer.
One section of the bill the LWV is concerned about, however, is a provision allowing the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to determine if a state of emergency exists.
"The careful outline of procedures in this new chapter is undone by permitting the Legislature to determine the definition of 'emergency.' Doesn't an infringement on the power of the executive appear to exist here?" Denham wrote.
The LWV also raised questions about the section that limits the government debt to the amount of debt existing Oct. 1, 1999. The limit excludes bond principal and interest due, and bonds for which a specific source of revenue has been identified.
"Is the paragraph relative to debt limit in conformance with the V.I. Code? Which bonds are being excluded here? Why wait a year to establish a base for debt limits?" Denham wrote. "The sentence is both vague and incomplete. As written, no time frame exists for the due date of interest payments for the referenced bonds."
The bill also mandates the creation of an attrition program to reduce the government's workforce. In her letter, Denham pointed out that Turnbull has already issued an executive order to begin an attrition program.
In response to the Senate's request for an audit of exempt positions, the LWV "again reminds the authors of legislative bills that 'positions' on the personnel roster of the V.I. government, not the employees who may fill those positions, lie within the prerogative of the Legislature," she wrote. "The structure of departments and agencies may be reorganized by the executive with the Legislature's approval."
The bill also directs the administration to develop and submit to the Legislature by July 30 a plan to renovate all government-owned buildings that are suitable for office space and make them available to various government departments and agencies. Denham wondered, however, what the Legislature would do with the report.
"While we commend the Legislature for assuming a serious stance in its role of watchdog, we wonder, once the executive submits the reports required… what will happen then?" she wrote.
The LWV also found glitches in the definitions section of the bill. The bill defines "appropriation" as an authorization to pay. According to the LWV, an "appropriation" is a legal authorization to incur obligations granted by legislation.
Where the bill defines 'deficit' as the difference between total revenues and total expenditures, the LWV believes 'deficit' is the difference between total revenues and total obligations, including unpaid obligations and actual expenditures in excess of revenues.
The LWV also feels "revenues" and "verifiable receipts," should not be used interchangeably, as they sometimes are in the bill; the first means projected funds while the latter means monies actually received.
Despite the flaws, however, the LWV said the bill represents a significant step toward better financial management.
"The Government Financial Accountability Act of 1999 is, with all the nitpicking of the League, a first step in assuming responsibility for not only the finances of the government of the Virgin Islands, but also its very real fiscal problems," she wrote.
Denham wondered, however, when the Senate will impose on itself some of the same cost-cutting measures the administration has committed to.
"The executive has now taken the lead to reduce the cost of operating the V.I. government. When will the legislative and the judicial branches of the government, as well as those government instrumentalities which receive grants from the general fund, take steps toward the reduction of their own operating costs?" she wrote.

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The Senate majority's highly touted "Government Financial Accountability Act" on the whole now has support from the League of Women Voters, despite the group's finding fault with many of the details of the bill. "Fiscal accountability has been a consistent demand of the League," LWV President Erva Denham wrote to Senate President Vargrave Richards this week.
While a League committee "has carefully reviewed this bill and finds much to commend...we are, however, concerned that in a number of instances the language used is ambiguous and may permit unintended interpretation," she wrote.
Denham told St. Thomas Source the League is also concerned that the bill does not provide for the Inspector General's Office to be an autonomous agency.
"This was a major part of the original draft of bill no. 0059," she wrote. "It was nine pages of the original bill. We want to know what happened to it. Is it going to be redrafted?"
Denham went on to say, "It is what gave teeth to the bill."
The Senate Rules Committee reported favorably on the bill last month and has sent it to the full Legislature for consideration.
The LWV supported what it called two "long overdue" provisions of the bill; one makes a balanced budget mandatory and the other legally recognizes that positions funded by federal grants expire the same time the grants do.
Other provisions in the act that the LWV backed included increasing from two to five the number of years of government service required to move from exempt to classified status, permitting the V.I. Port Authority to make its own decisions on leases, excluding future principal and interest payments on bonds from the estimated annual total government debt, and allowing the Government Employees Retirement System to name its own treasurer.
One section of the bill the LWV is concerned about, however, is a provision allowing the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to determine if a state of emergency exists.
"The careful outline of procedures in this new chapter is undone by permitting the Legislature to determine the definition of 'emergency.' Doesn't an infringement on the power of the executive appear to exist here?" Denham wrote.
The LWV also raised questions about the section that limits the government debt to the amount of debt existing Oct. 1, 1999. The limit excludes bond principal and interest due, and bonds for which a specific source of revenue has been identified.
"Is the paragraph relative to debt limit in conformance with the V.I. Code? Which bonds are being excluded here? Why wait a year to establish a base for debt limits?" Denham wrote. "The sentence is both vague and incomplete. As written, no time frame exists for the due date of interest payments for the referenced bonds."
The bill also mandates the creation of an attrition program to reduce the government's workforce. In her letter, Denham pointed out that Turnbull has already issued an executive order to begin an attrition program.
In response to the Senate's request for an audit of exempt positions, the LWV "again reminds the authors of legislative bills that 'positions' on the personnel roster of the V.I. government, not the employees who may fill those positions, lie within the prerogative of the Legislature," she wrote. "The structure of departments and agencies may be reorganized by the executive with the Legislature's approval."
The bill also directs the administration to develop and submit to the Legislature by July 30 a plan to renovate all government-owned buildings that are suitable for office space and make them available to various government departments and agencies. Denham wondered, however, what the Legislature would do with the report.
"While we commend the Legislature for assuming a serious stance in its role of watchdog, we wonder, once the executive submits the reports required... what will happen then?" she wrote.
The LWV also found glitches in the definitions section of the bill. The bill defines "appropriation" as an authorization to pay. According to the LWV, an "appropriation" is a legal authorization to incur obligations granted by legislation.
Where the bill defines 'deficit' as the difference between total revenues and total expenditures, the LWV believes 'deficit' is the difference between total revenues and total obligations, including unpaid obligations and actual expenditures in excess of revenues.
The LWV also feels "revenues" and "verifiable receipts," should not be used interchangeably, as they sometimes are in the bill; the first means projected funds while the latter means monies actually received.
Despite the flaws, however, the LWV said the bill represents a significant step toward better financial management.
"The Government Financial Accountability Act of 1999 is, with all the nitpicking of the League, a first step in assuming responsibility for not only the finances of the government of the Virgin Islands, but also its very real fiscal problems," she wrote.
Denham wondered, however, when the Senate will impose on itself some of the same cost-cutting measures the administration has committed to.
"The executive has now taken the lead to reduce the cost of operating the V.I. government. When will the legislative and the judicial branches of the government, as well as those government instrumentalities which receive grants from the general fund, take steps toward the reduction of their own operating costs?" she wrote.