Nov. 1, 2002 – Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd has asked the Legislature's post auditor to start identifying funds to pay unionized government workers the salary increases that are being negotiated in the current round of contract talks.
Liburd conveyed his request through the Finance Committee chair, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, complying with a request made a week ago by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The governor wants the Legislature to appropriate $6.1 million to cover pay raises for firefighters, their supervisors, and government workers in 15 departments and agencies who are covered by a United Steelworkers of America-Master contract.
Turnbull reminded Liburd that back in May, when he submitted his proposed Fiscal Year 2003 executive budget, he had told the Senate president that $25 million to $30 million would be needed to pay wage increases to workers covered by 18 expired contracts.
Liburd said he has told Post Auditor Terry Drake that he wants to see what funding sources are available to comply with the governor's request. "Before we can proceed in drafting the necessary legislation to address these contracts, a funding source must first be identified," Liburd said.
However, thanks to a turn of events last week, that may be less of a challenge now.
The governor announced on Wednesday that a newly available source of revenue will be tapped "to partially fund currently negotiated salary increases for police officers." The money consists of proceeds from a settlement the government reached with an elderly couple who for 20 years fought against paying corporate taxes assessed by the Virgin Islands. (See "20-year pursuit of taxes to yield $10M payoff".)
The settlement, reached last week in California, is expected to bring more than $10 million into V.I. coffers in amounts and at intervals agreed upon. Government House spokesman James O'Bryan said the settlement represents a potential revenue stream for paying negotiated raises. "Now we have a clear idea as to where the funds can come from," he said.
Meanwhile, Drake said some pay increases for unionized workers have already been addressed. "There were some wage increase issues taken up under the general budget," he said.
The post auditor said he hopes to act quickly on Liburd's request, but the process will require time for research and review and then for Senate hearings.
Along with the request for funding, Turnbull sent Liburd an update on the status of the government's 30 collective bargaining agreements.
Negotiations with unions representing government employees have been ongoing for a number of weeks. Repeated efforts to obtain details from the administration's chief negotiator, Karen Andrews, on those pacts already agreed upon and ratified have been unsuccessful. Among these are agreements covering firefighters, their supervisors, the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union, and those workers under the Steelworkers-Master contract.
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