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HomeNewsArchivesSENATE PASSES APPROPRIATIONS BILL

SENATE PASSES APPROPRIATIONS BILL

Meeting in special session Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to finance school repairs, provide funds for both public and school bus transportation, and shore up the Government Insurance Fund.
The session was called to reprogram funds to cover the shortfall in the Government Insurance Fund, the Virgin Islands Public Transit Fund, and funds allocated to the Education Department.
The bill, which was proposed by Senate President Vargrave Richards at the request of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, also creates a Public Transportation Fund to operate the V.I. Public Transit System.
Thursday's special session was originally called by the governor to address the Marriott Ritz-Carlton expansion issue. He later rewrote his call to put the appropriations first on the agenda. The Senate later in the session approved by a 12-2 vote to sell the Ritz-Carlton resort a small portion of a public road. (See separate story.)
Though the bill to reprogram funds drew heavy questioning, it still passed, urged on by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who announced that Vitran workers had not been paid as of Thursday afternoon, and would not be paid unless the appropriations were put through. Hansen introduced a motion to pay the workers Thursday afternoon, but it was put aside in favor of passing the bill.
Hansen said she had been contacted while on the floor by a note from Luis "Tito" Morales, Central Labor Council president, informing her of the Vitran workers' situation.
The bill appropriates $3 million for maintenance and repairs to Elena L. Christian High School, Claude O. Markoe Elementary School and Arthur A. Richards Junior High School, all on St. Croix, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2000. This appropriation comes from money to be transferred from the Asset Recovery Fund to the General Fund
In addition, the bill appropriates $1,230,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Public Transportation Fund to pay limited expenses for public transportation.
It also appropriates $1,770,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Education Department to provide limited school bus transportation. Both of these appropriations are for FY 2000.
The bill was amended by Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus to transfer $250,000 from the V.I. Accountancy Special Fund for FY 2000 to the Government Insurance Fund, and to appropriate $3,028,983 to the Government Insurance Fund from any funds available in the V.I. treasury for FY 2000.
Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull said, "If the bill passes, checks will be cut tomorrow for workmen's compensation."
Another amendment was introduced by Sen. Adlah "Fonsie" Donastorg to add $50,000 to the school repair appropriation to be used exclusively to implement the Economic Literacy Program provided for in the V.I. Code.
The bill and its two amendments were approved by a 14-0 vote. Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan was absent.
If all the funds and appropriations seemed confusing, they were. The senators spent more than four hours quizzing Turnbull, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. on where the money was coming from.
Senate Pos Auditor Campbell R. Malone washed his hands of the bill. He said he received it about 7 p.m. Wednesday, after business hours. Because of the late arrival, he said, his analysis would be "severely impaired" so he expressed "no opinion whatsoever." Attached to Malone's statement were 23 fund balances from the Finance Department, which he called "wholly insufficient to arrive at any conclusion."
Malone said he didn't think Finance knew what it was doing. He said the agency didn't seem to know the difference between a "fund" and an "account."
Turnbull said that her department "creates funds for special purposes," and that she had an "administratively created fund."
None of the senators understood how that could be done. Sen. Lorraine Berry asked if the Legislature had any control of these funds, and Turnbull said "no."
Sen. Violet Anne Golden said she wasn't pointing fingers, but the senators needed truthful information.
Sen. Gregory Bennerson said, "We have to know where every cent is – have these funds been reported to the Legislature?" Turnbull said, "As soon as Finance gets audited balances, we will report them."
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen suggested sarcastically that perhaps the funds were "being handled humanitarily." The reference was to the explanation Gov. Turnbull gave in his recent press conference when he defended money paid to Workers' Compensation by Commissioner Turnbull as "humanitarian, and not illegal."
In another matter, Thompson was asked about the privatization of Vitran. He said Vitran should be privatized after it was in "good financial condition." He explained that the bus service is not a revenue-generating entity. He said the V.I. was designated as a "rural" area as opposed to "urban," like Puerto Rico, and because of the designation doesn't qualify for more substantial federal funding.
The new Public Transportation Fund will consist of all money received from grants, subsidies and farebox collections by the bus system. It will be disbursed by the Finance commissioner at the direction of the Public Works commissioner to operate and maintain the public transit system, including salary and fringe benefits, and any other operating expenses.

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Meeting in special session Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to finance school repairs, provide funds for both public and school bus transportation, and shore up the Government Insurance Fund.
The session was called to reprogram funds to cover the shortfall in the Government Insurance Fund, the Virgin Islands Public Transit Fund, and funds allocated to the Education Department.
The bill, which was proposed by Senate President Vargrave Richards at the request of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, also creates a Public Transportation Fund to operate the V.I. Public Transit System.
Thursday's special session was originally called by the governor to address the Marriott Ritz-Carlton expansion issue. He later rewrote his call to put the appropriations first on the agenda. The Senate later in the session approved by a 12-2 vote to sell the Ritz-Carlton resort a small portion of a public road. (See separate story.)
Though the bill to reprogram funds drew heavy questioning, it still passed, urged on by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who announced that Vitran workers had not been paid as of Thursday afternoon, and would not be paid unless the appropriations were put through. Hansen introduced a motion to pay the workers Thursday afternoon, but it was put aside in favor of passing the bill.
Hansen said she had been contacted while on the floor by a note from Luis "Tito" Morales, Central Labor Council president, informing her of the Vitran workers' situation.
The bill appropriates $3 million for maintenance and repairs to Elena L. Christian High School, Claude O. Markoe Elementary School and Arthur A. Richards Junior High School, all on St. Croix, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2000. This appropriation comes from money to be transferred from the Asset Recovery Fund to the General Fund
In addition, the bill appropriates $1,230,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Public Transportation Fund to pay limited expenses for public transportation.
It also appropriates $1,770,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Education Department to provide limited school bus transportation. Both of these appropriations are for FY 2000.
The bill was amended by Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus to transfer $250,000 from the V.I. Accountancy Special Fund for FY 2000 to the Government Insurance Fund, and to appropriate $3,028,983 to the Government Insurance Fund from any funds available in the V.I. treasury for FY 2000.
Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull said, "If the bill passes, checks will be cut tomorrow for workmen's compensation."
Another amendment was introduced by Sen. Adlah "Fonsie" Donastorg to add $50,000 to the school repair appropriation to be used exclusively to implement the Economic Literacy Program provided for in the V.I. Code.
The bill and its two amendments were approved by a 14-0 vote. Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan was absent.
If all the funds and appropriations seemed confusing, they were. The senators spent more than four hours quizzing Turnbull, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. on where the money was coming from.
Senate Pos Auditor Campbell R. Malone washed his hands of the bill. He said he received it about 7 p.m. Wednesday, after business hours. Because of the late arrival, he said, his analysis would be "severely impaired" so he expressed "no opinion whatsoever." Attached to Malone's statement were 23 fund balances from the Finance Department, which he called "wholly insufficient to arrive at any conclusion."
Malone said he didn't think Finance knew what it was doing. He said the agency didn't seem to know the difference between a "fund" and an "account."
Turnbull said that her department "creates funds for special purposes," and that she had an "administratively created fund."
None of the senators understood how that could be done. Sen. Lorraine Berry asked if the Legislature had any control of these funds, and Turnbull said "no."
Sen. Violet Anne Golden said she wasn't pointing fingers, but the senators needed truthful information.
Sen. Gregory Bennerson said, "We have to know where every cent is – have these funds been reported to the Legislature?" Turnbull said, "As soon as Finance gets audited balances, we will report them."
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen suggested sarcastically that perhaps the funds were "being handled humanitarily." The reference was to the explanation Gov. Turnbull gave in his recent press conference when he defended money paid to Workers' Compensation by Commissioner Turnbull as "humanitarian, and not illegal."
In another matter, Thompson was asked about the privatization of Vitran. He said Vitran should be privatized after it was in "good financial condition." He explained that the bus service is not a revenue-generating entity. He said the V.I. was designated as a "rural" area as opposed to "urban," like Puerto Rico, and because of the designation doesn't qualify for more substantial federal funding.
The new Public Transportation Fund will consist of all money received from grants, subsidies and farebox collections by the bus system. It will be disbursed by the Finance commissioner at the direction of the Public Works commissioner to operate and maintain the public transit system, including salary and fringe benefits, and any other operating expenses.