Nov. 20, 2003 – After seemingly interminable tries with endless delays and recesses, the Senate Rules Committee finally passed the fiscal year 2004 budget on Thursday night, with the package destined to be taken up by the full Senate in a session scheduled as of then to convene at 10 a.m. Friday.
Thursday's Rules session, initially set for 10 a.m., was moved to 1 p.m. and actually started about a half hour after that. It ended around 8:30 p.m.
In the day's deliberations, the committee:
– Passed the executive branch FY 2004 budget as amended to restore funding reduced by the Finance Committee for several agencies from the levels proposed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The cuts would have left the agencies — the Human Services and Public Works Departments, the Office of Veterans Affairs, Juan F. Luis Hospital, and the Board of Education — severely underfunded, according to their heads and Sen. Carlton Dowe.
– Restored $4.5 million that had been cut by the Finance Committee from the budget of the Territorial Court, a reduction which had brought vehement objections from Presiding Judge Maria Cabret.
– Passed the Legislature's own $16.5 million budget.
– Passed the voluminous 2004 Omnibus Bill, which contains the majority's revenue-generating measures including dual property tax payments within the fiscal year, expected to generate $40 million, and to be secured by a tax anticipation note and a $30 million letter of credit backed by the Insurance Guaranty Fund; the Technology Enterprise Act; and a wholesale motor fuel tax projected to bring in $3 million.
– Approved a surtax of 2 per cent on the current 8 percent hotel and time-share room tax, which would bring the total tax to 10 per cent.
– Approved a tourism "board" which on an amendment by Sen. Lorraine Berry, the bill's sponsor, would replace the V.I. Tourism Authority previously laid out in the legislation.
Following are the appropriations for the executive branch departments and agencies as approved by Rules Committee on Tuesday and, where applicable, amended on Thursday (figures over $1 million are rounded to the nearest hundred thousand):
V.I. Election System — $1.1 million
St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections — $42,419
St. Croix Board of Elections — $47,817
Board of Education — $1.1 million
Office of the Governor — $6.6 million (including $322,045 for the Bureau of Economic Research)
Office of Management and Budget — $1.3 million
Personnel Division — $1.2 million
Fire Service — $12.7 million
Office of Adjutant General — $1.4 million
Office of Veterans Affairs — $248,856
Office of the Lieutenant Governor — $5 million
Justice Department — $25.4 million (including $13 million for the Corrections Bureau)
Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department — $2.3 million
Internal Revenue Bureau — $8.4 million
Office of the Inspector General — $1.1 million
Finance Department — $7.3 million
Property and Procurement Department — $4.2 million
Health Department — $25.3 million
Education Department — $149.6 million
Hospitals and Health Corp. — $43.8 million ($21.4 million for Juan F. Luis Hospital and $22.5 million for Roy L. Schneider Hospital/Myra Keating Smith Community Health Center)
Human Services Department — $35.5 million
Planning and Natural Resources Department — $5.9 million
Police Department — $37.3 million
Law Enforcement Planning Commission — $563,429
Narcotics Strike Force — $690,018
Public Works Department — $25.1 million
Housing, Parks and Recreation Department — $7.5 million
Agriculture Department — $2.9 million
Tourism Department — $4 million
Labor Department — $2.6 million
Total General Fund appropriations for the executive branch — $421.7 million
Miscellaneous — $96 million
The full Senate will take up the items on its agenda under a "closed rule," meaning they cannot be amended on the floor, only voted yea or nay.
A full account of the Thursday's Rules proceedings, which covered a multitude of issues, will appear in the Source on Friday.
All seven Rules Committee members — Sens. Berry, Douglas Canton, Roosevelt David, Dowe, Louis Hill, David Jones and Ronald Russell — attended Thursday's meeting. Also present were Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn Baptiste, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Luther Renee, Usie Richards and Celestino A. White Sr., who do not sit on the committee.
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