Jan. 21, 2004 – Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Finance Committee chair, said on Wednesday that he has canceled Friday afternoon's scheduled continuation of the panel's Tuesday hearing.
There had been rumors that the governor's financial team might boycott the Tuesday session, to which they had been invited to testify on the fiscal year 2003-2004 budget, Donastorg said on Wednesday. Should the rumors have proven true, he said, "it would have put us in a position of having to subpoena them, and you need 72 hours' notice to do that."
The Friday meeting also would have been a forum for obtaining information requested by senators on Tuesday that the administration officials didn't have with them. It was intended as "a safeguard for many reasons," Donastorg said.
However, the concerns proved unfounded as the contingent of administration fiscal officers sat through a seven-hour grilling Tuesday, although when it ended, the figures bandied about were not entirely clear. (See "Budget issues pit Senate against administration".)
Donastorg said on Wednesday that the administration has "distracted residents away from the real importance of accountability and responsibility, and they've done a marvelous job." But then the Senate didn't help any, he added.
"In the Finance Committee, we passed a budget where appropriations totaled $527.9 million, $29.7 million less than the $557.6 million proposed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull," he pointed out. "The Rules Committee upped it again, and on the floor it rose higher; with the inclusion of the Omnibus Bill, it became $627 million."
The Rules Committee restored 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 the heads of the agencies.
As a result of Turnbull's having vetoed the fiscal year 2004 budget adopted by the Legislature, the government by law must revert to the FY 2003 budget through the end of the 2004 fiscal year, according to the governor. Turnbull said in his veto remarks on Dec. 23 that he would be asking the Senate for supplemental appropriations for certain departments and agencies. Most agencies' appropriations were higher in the rejected FY2004 budget than in the FY 2003 version.
At Tuesday's hearing, the administration officers maintained throughout the day that the budget they are working with is $580 million. How that figure derives from the FY 2003 budget of $567.7 million adopted and signed by the governor is not clear.
Nathan Simmonds, director of the governor's Office of Fiscal and Economic Recovery Implementation, said the $580 figure is based on projected revenues of $607 million, less $27 million in income-tax refunds and debt service payments. In answer to Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone's questioning, Simmonds said there would be no $27 million deficit, because "the administration would not allot more than the $580 million."
Donastorg also commented on Wednesday about an issue raised Tuesday concerning department and agencies overspending their allotments. Both Simmonds and Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said such overspending is punishable by fine and imprisonment.
According to Donastorg, the distinction must be made between appropriations (the budgeted money authorized by the Legislature) and allotments (the amounts of money received from the Finance Department after being approved by the Office of Management and Budget). Departments may have overspent their allotments, but not their appropriations, Donastorg said. "The appropriation is key," he said. "It's highly impossible to exceed the appropriations."
Senators' remarks on Tuesday suggest it is unlikely that the body will go along with Turnbull's budget. With 10 votes — a two-thirds majority — the Legislature could override the governor's vetoes in their entirety, or could override his line-item vetoes of specific sections of the Omnibus Bill, which contains millions of dollars in spending.
One item veto that stuck in the craw of many senators was of a $12 million appropriation to cover retroactive pay increases for firefighters, teachers, and rank and file government employees. Its override appeared on Tuesday to be imminent.
Labor leaders poured into the Senate chambers during discussion of the appropriation prior to adoption of the budget, and the lawmakers passed an amendment guaranteeing the appropriation would be implemented within 90 days of passage.
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