Dec. 23, 2003 – Senate minority leader Usie Richards lost no time expressing his approval of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto of the Legislature's fiscal year 2004 budget on Tuesday.
Richards and his minority colleagues have been critical of the Senate majority's budget-making every step of the way. The minority submitted numerous budget proposals of its own, to the governor as well as to the Senate majority, and saw some of them implemented earlier this year.
"I applaud the governor for finding the forthrightness to do what is fiscally right in these hard times as it relates to the treasury of the government of the Virgin Islands," Richards said late Tuesday afternoon.
"I believe that the members of the majority played a cruel hoax on unionized employees expecting step increases," Richards continued. "Last week in session I warned that if the governor signed the budget bills, we would be facing a $100 million deficit. I see the governor pegged it at $75 million. I believe it's reduced because he signed into law more borrowing on the loan from the Insurance Guaranty Fund."
Richards said he also is pleased that the governor vetoed the majority's proposal to assess property taxes twice in one year. "I see the administration pegged it at three in one year," he noted — a comment that Turnbull did not explain. "We need to collect the $80 million that is owed."
Richards additionally expressed solidarity with the governor's opposition to Delegate Donna M. Christensen's federal legislation to create a chief financial officer for the territory. "I understand her position, but I believe her actions will go much further," Richards said. "I believe that her actions will open a door that will go 'way beyond her intention, creating a political implication as far as governance."
Sen. Carlton Dowe, also a member of the minority bloc, lobbied at length against the multiple property tax assessment, contacting the governor and speaking out against the proposal vehemently in Senate meetings and on the radio. "I'm glad he vetoed it," Dowe said Tuesday afternoon, "because it's like I've said from day one — the property tax is burdensome."
Instead, he said, the administration "should try to get the $80 million owing in delinquent property taxes, and get the $40 million from there, not from taxing people two times."
Dowe reiterated a related concern that he had expressed repeatedly in the Senate chambers: "For people on fixed income, the bank would raise their escrow, and the mortgage would go up at the same time."
"We have to fix the structural problems, and we're not inclined to do that," Dowe said. "The governor did the right thing. We have to go back and address the unions."
Asked about a national union leader's recent ultimatum in a letter to Turnbull concerning negotiated but yet to be implemented raises for firefighters, Dowe said: "We have to deal with that problem." (See "Firefighters vow to fight for raises".)
Sen. Emmett Hansen II, a majority bloc member, expressed reservations about the governor's intention to continue business under the FY 2003 budget. "None of those 300 or so people he hired since the last election are included in that budget," he said. "Those are new contracts. He hired those people after Oct. 1, 2002."
Hansen said Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg revealed this information in one of this Finance Committee meetings earlier this year.
Upon hearing that the governor had sent Jones a five-page cover letter with the budget veto message, Hansen laughed. "It doesn't take that much paper to say 'kiss off'," he said, "and yes, you may quote me."
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