Dec. 24, 2002 – The 24th Legislature in its final session celebrated the season on Monday by appropriating more than $25 million for various projects and paving the way for government employees to get another paid holiday — to attend a blues festival on St. Croix.
The senators also passed legislation authorizing the Coastal Zone Management Commission to establish a territorial park system, including the St. Croix East End Marine Park. The bill passed on a 12-3 vote with Sens. Roosevelt David, Alicia "Chucky Hansen and Norman Jn Baptiste absent. It was one of the few measures of the day that Sen. Adelbert Bryan voted for.
Bryan, who lost his re-election bid in November, cast the lone "no" vote on many of the spending measures. He decried the lawmakers' spending in the face of what the administration has termed a current "fiscal crisis."
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, himself, started the spending ball rolling with his legislation giving hefty raises to himself, the lieutenant governor and the senators, despite dire warnings from his top fiscal mangers last week about the government's state of financial affairs. (See "Senate gives itself $20K, governor $55K pay hikes".)
Turnbull's reasoning for the raises was that top elected officials shouldn't make less than their subordinates — which was not a problem until Turnbull earlier this year gave hefty across-the-board raises to hundreds of exempt executive branch employees. (See "Commissioners, at least 1,100 more get pay hikes".)
One measure approved was not an appropriation but directly affects the government pocketbook. Proposed by Sen. Roosevelt David, it would allow retired government workers who are rehired to draw their retirement pay along with their current salary for a period of three years, an extension from the present 75 days. Bryan called the motion "ridiculous." He said: "I would benefit, but it's wrong."
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd jokingly told Bryan that he just might profit from that legislation "since I hear you are rumored for a 'top cop' job." He elicited a smile but no confirmation from Bryan. "Ask Juel Molloy, or the Board of Realtors, or the Chamber of Commerce," Bryan said. "I don't think that is so." Bryan has long been a foe of development in the territory by outside interests.
White got the necessary 10 votes, or two-thirds majority, to override the governor's veto of giving $3 million from the General Fund to the Housing Finance Authority to fund a mortgage subsidy program.
He also got passage of an amendment to appropriate $2.1 million from the Land Bank Fund in Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004 to subsidize public housing rents for calendar year 2003.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen introduced an amendment providing a four-year scholarship to the University of the Virgin Islands for Sophia Johnson, a 7-year-old credited with saving another youngster from drowning.
It was an uncharacteristically low-key Senate appearance for Hansen, and her last for at least the next two years, as she opted not to seek re-election in November in order to run instead, unsuccessfully, for governor.
"Little Sophia," as Hansen referred to the youngster, rescued a 4-year-old in danger of drowning at the Hotel on the Cay beach on St. Croix in August. Hansen said American Airlines had rewarded Sophia with a round-trip to Orlando, Florida, to visit Disney World. She said the scholarship would be a fitting reward for the young girl.
All senators present except Emmett Hansen II and Norma Pickard-Samuel approved the measure. Pickard-Samuel questioned the financing of the scholarship.
Emmett Hansen objected on ethical grounds. "Whatever happened to doing something right simply because it is right?" he asked. "I don't think a monetary reward is morally right; I don't think money should be placed for doing the right thing." He said such an action sets the wrong precedent for children, contradicting the old maxim, "Virtue is its own reward."
He recounted his own experience some 25 years ago, when he and two friends rescued a man drowning in deep water. The three were honored by a resolution by the 13th Legislature in 1978, Resolution 952, he said. "I was thrilled then," he said. "I don't think I would have understood the meaning of a monetary reward. That would have bothered me."
One more holiday, many more amendments
The new holiday approved by the Senate is laid out in an amendment sponsored by Sen. David Jones honoring the "Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise" aboard the cruise ship Melody, which will be visiting St. Croix on Feb. 11. The amendment states that Feb. 11, 2003, shall be observed as "Legendary Rhythm and Blues Fest Day" and states that the governor "may grant administrative leave to non-essential government employees to participate in the festival activities."
Jones said a video crew aboard the ship will film the event for a Public Broadcasting System television documentary. The festival event itself is to be funded with $25,000 previously appropriated to Our Town Frederiksted.
In other amendments, the Senate also appropriated:
– $2 million to the Office of Lieutenant Governor to update computers and hire more personnel for the Banking and Insurance Division, a measure sponsored by Sen. Vargrave Richards, the lieutenant governor-elect. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II had failed to get a similar proposal approved during the Fiscal Year 2003 budget hearings last summer.
– $200,000 from the Road Fund for road paving in Estate Anna's Retreat on St. Thomas.
– $120,000 from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund for completion of the Mandahl Road project on St. Thomas.
– $2.7 million from the General Fund to the Public Works Department for payment of prior year obligations to garbage haulers, trucking companies and other vendors.
– $300,000 from the General Fund for the V.I. Justice Department's witness protection program.
– $250,000 from the General Fund for the Police Department's Narcotics Strike Force.
All senators attended the session except Norman Jn Baptiste, who was excused.
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