May 20, 2003 – The Senate has been called into special session on Thursday morning with no clue by Tuesday night as to what its members will be asked to consider in terms of possible legislation to address the territory's fiscal crisis.
Monday evening's three-paragraph Government House release announcing the special session stated only that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull intends for the lawmakers "to consider several bills to address the financial situation of the government."
The release also said that Turnbull had told Senate President David Jones in a letter that "my financial team will be available to testify on the urgent need for these provisions and to provide any other information which the members of the Senate may need in its deliberations."
What the Senate will — not may — need is time, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said on Tuesday. Time for analysis of any proposed legislation, so that it can be properly reviewed.
The third paragraph of the release cited a letter the governor had sent Donastorg as Finance Committee chair earlier Monday asking to have "my cabinet members" excused from attending a hearing that had been scheduled for Tuesday on the territory's financial woes. The cabinet members referred to are Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director. (See "Governor calls special session on fiscal crisis".)
In the letter to Donastorg, Turnbull said that his financial team "is finalizing their recommendations to address the government's financial situation."
Donastorg, who proceeded on Monday afternoon to call off the Tuesday hearing, expressed concern on Tuesday that he had not received any information from Turnbull about the special session. He wrote back to the governor asking for specifics in advance of the session.
"I have honored your request in the spirit of cooperation, as it is my hope that on Thursday your cabinet will present the Legislature with sound information about and solutions for our current fiscal problems," he said.
But, he said, the Senate's legal and financial experts "need time for analysis of any proposed legislation as soon as possible." He told Turnbull: "We cannot anticipate a productive session unless this information has been properly reviewed."
On Tuesday evening, it was not possible to reach anyone at Government House for a response.
Turnbull announced on April 24 that the territory was facing a deficit of $100 million — later amended to $115 million — for Fiscal Year 2003, which ends Sept. 30. He then created a 25-member "financial team" composed entirely of government personnel that has met repeatedly since then, including two sessions with business leaders and others with union representatives. However, there has been no forum in which public input was solicited or taken.
Itemized suggestions from the business sector, labor groups and the Senate Minority Caucus make it clear that there is great difference in how the various groups perceive the territory's problem and how best to go about resolving it. (See "Public, private sectors differ on fiscal answers".)
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