May 12, 2003 – The Senate passed $11.5 million in appropriations on April 17, and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull line-item vetoed $11 million of them on Monday.
The governor approved only a $250,000 appropriation to rebuild the Sanderilla Thomas Bungalow at Rothschild Francis "Market" Square in downtown Charlotte Amalie. That appropriation was the basis of the original bill to which all of the others had been attached via amendments. The bungalow collapsed on April 15 after being hit by a trailer truck.
Turnbull vetoed a $3 million appropriation from the Insurance Guaranty Fund to provide a no-interest loan to the Port Authority in the hope that the money would allow VIPA to rethink its recent airport fee increases. The veto was more or less moot, as the VIPA board turned down the offer at a board meeting last month.
The governor also vetoed a $4 million appropriation from the same fund to pay retroactive union-negotiated salary increases. (See "Senate approves $11.5 million in spending amendments".)
In his cover letter to Senate President David Jones, Turnbull said that taking money from the Insurance Guaranty Fund would be "irresponsible and unconscionable … a few weeks before the onset of the 2003 hurricane season."
He wrote: "This fund provides additional security against the financial loss of homes and businesses for thousands of Virgin Islanders. Given the territory's financial situation, tapping this fund for pay increases at the risk of leaving many of the same individuals in financial jeopardy in the event of a catastrophe caused by a natural disaster is fiscally unsound and wrong."
Turnbull added that Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, in his capacity as Insurance commissioner, "strongly opposes" the bill. He said that Richards had cited concerns voiced by industry insurers and Lloyd's of London during a visit to London earlier this year. Richards said that raids of the fund have caused several insurers to withdraw from doing business in the territory because of the dangerous precedent of using the fund for purposes other than its original intent.
The governor also vetoed a section of the measure appropriating $3 million from interest on bond proceeds to the Property and Procurement Department to rehabilitate the "Old Danish School" on St. Croix for use as government office space. Turnbull said he already had authorized $2 million for renovating the building, acting through the Public Finance Authority. Turnbull, by virtue of his office, chairs the PFA.
Turnbull also vetoed two sections of the bill appropriating $1 million from the Tourism Advertising and Revolving Fund to establish a special tactical unit within the Police Department. "Special legislation is not necessary to establish this unit," he said, "because it is within the commissioner's discretional authority to determine the number of police officers needed in any such unit and to determine their assignments."
Turnbull pointed out that the fund was established "for advertising and promoting the Virgin Islands as a tourist destination." He said that "other, more appropriate funding sources should be utilized for police functions."
The governor did, however, approve two other spending measures which dip into the tourism fund. One is for $30,000 to advertise a sporting event. The money is to pay Sterling Promotions to host a "Showtime Championship Event" this month which the amendment says will be viewed by "over 40 million households." The other is of $80,000 for the V.I. Olympic Committee to cover costs of the territory's competition in the 2003 Pan American Games.
Turnbull continually chastised the 24th Legislature for its free-wheeling spending, appropriating money which didn't and wouldn't exist. Monday's veto action was his first clash with the 25th Legislature. It came two and a half weeks after the governor announced on April 24 that the V.I. government is projected to have a deficit in excess of $100 million for Fiscal Year 2003.
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