Dec. 24, 2002 – Looking Christmas square in the eye, the 24th Legislature in its final session Monday voted its membership a $20,000 annual increase in pay — to $85,000 from $65,000, making them the third-highest-paid legislators under the American flag, following those of California and the District of Columbia.
On a recommendation sent down by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, the Senate also raised the governor's salary to $135,000 from $80,000 a year and that of the lieutenant governor to $115,000 from $75,000.
At the moment, legislators in the Virgin Islands rank fifth in the United States in salary level. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site, lawmakers for 2002 were paid $99,000 in California, $92,500 in the District of Columbia, $79,500 in New York and $77,400 in Michigan.
Turnbull told Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd in his cover letter with the proposed legislation that neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor has had a change in salary for "many years." He noted that heads of departments and some agencies now make more than the governor — $85,000, reflecting sizable increases he granted them earlier this year as do the chief executives of the government's independent instrumentalities, The West Indian Co., the Port Authority and the Water and Power Authority.
The governor said the raises would put the salaries of the territory's top two elected officials back in line with those of the department and agency heads of the executive branch.
Last year, the lawmakers tried to put themselves on the same salary level as the highest paid commissioners, but Turnbull vetoed the measure and the Senate did not attempt an override.
Voting for the raises on Monday were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton, Roosevelt David, Emmett Hansen II, David Jones, Liburd, Vargrave Richards and Norma Pickard-Samuel. Voting against were Sens. Adelbert Bryan, Carlton Dowe, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Celestino A. White Sr. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen was absent and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was excused.
The measure passed on the second attempt after having failed earlier in the day. On the first vote, Berry, Canton, David, Emmett Hansen and Jones voted in favor; Bryan, Donastorg, Alicia Hansen, Richards and White voted against; and Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Liburd and Pickard-Samuel abstained. Dowe was absent and Jn Baptiste was excused.
Richards, whose salary will increase to $115,000 from $65,000 when he becomes lieutenant governor in January, brought the measure to the floor the second time. He explained that he had misunderstood the bill's content the first time around, believing that it would impact negatively on the Government Employees Retirement System.
Following the second vote, he said that after talking with Liburd, he understood that the raises "wouldn't have the level of impact I had believed they would. I never approve anything that would impact the retirement system."
Bryan didn't see it that way. He said his colleagues should be thinking of the time down the road when GERS has to pay 75 percent of their salaries as retirees. "What are you going to do in 40 years when the senators, the governor, lieutenant governor and all the judges are collecting their retirement?" he asked. "Where do you plan to get the money?"
Bryan, who lost his bid for re-election in November, charged that the vote for the raises was part of a "silent conspiracy" about which he opined all day. He blamed hypocrisy in government and not speaking out honestly on issues as damaging factors in the territory's society. "It's a sneaky way to raise the senators' salaries after the election," he said, "Those same senators wouldn't have dared do this before the election."
It had been widely expected for months that the lame duck 24th Legislature would vote in the raises, which will take effect in the 25th Legislature.
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