Jan. 27, 2004 – Many lawmakers voiced their disappointment Monday night following Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's State of the Territory Address, citing both a lack of direction and a failure to provide specific proposals for solving the territory's fiscal woes.
The Source will post the full text of the governor's address when Government House makes it available electronically. A public relations spokesperson said on Tuesday that the speech was "at the webmaster's" and that it probably wouldn't be available to the news media until Wednesday. The spokesperson couldn't say who the webmaster is.
The annual address, the governor's sixth, came at the end of the first year of his second term in office. At the Legislature Building on Monday night following the speech, criticism came equally from the Senate majority, consisting of the members of Turnbull's own Democratic Party, and the minority bloc.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. of the minority termed it "an extremely weak speech and performance." He said Turnbull "should simply have said, 'Refer to the speeches of 2001, 2002 and 2003.'"
White added: "He spent much of his time chastising the leadership of the Legislature, and chastising the delegate to Congress, but he was unable to say what the state of the territory is."
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg of the majority said there was an overall lack of passion in the governor's address. "If there is real passion for something, then the rest of the departments will fall into line," he said. "But there is no real passion for anything."
Donastorg also said he was encouraged by the governor's defense of the Police Department "after the recent beating they have taken in the printed press," but he expressed concern about the governor's resolve, pointing to past initiatives. "How many of them have been followed through? Let us hope that this speech will be the turning of the tide and that the things the governor talked about will be put into action."
Berry, Christensen unbowed
The most passion Turnbull expressed Monday night came in his vehement criticism of Sen. Lorraine Berry's pending legislation to create a financial review board and of Delegate Donna M. Christensen's bill before Congress to create a chief financial officer to serve for five years.
Responding to the remarks, Berry, a majority senator, said afterward: "The governor is in denial on the fiscal issues."
Berry also was critical of other aspects of the address. "He didn't say anything about a tourism board, and he sent mixed signals to St. Croix talking about Robin Bay and Golden Gaming," she said. "He needs to push what is in the pipeline. St. Croix needs some hope. There was nothing exciting in the speech. I'm disappointed."
Christensen, who has come under attack from Turnbull from the time she introduced her bill in November, said she remains convinced that an interim chief financial officer for the territory is needed. "I've always felt the governor intended to do right," she said, "but the CFO will ensure that the territory keeps on track. The CFO would free up the governor for more development and planning on new initiatives."
The delegate also said that in his speech overall, Turnbull "painted a rosier picture than we really have. We need a realistic picture. Though I'm sensitive to the governor's concerns, it isn't going to make me withdraw my bill."
A number of senators also were disappointed that Turnbull made no mention of what his supplemental budget requests for the current fiscal year will be, or when they will be.
On Dec. 23, the governor announced his vetoes of the fiscal year 2004 budget bills passed by the 25th Legislature in November. And he said that, as a result, the FY 2003 budget would remain in effect for all of FY 2004 and that he would be sending supplemental requests to the Legislature.
The Legislature had been scheduled to convene on Tuesday to take up five alternative budget bills of its own to fund the various branches of government. Senate President David Jones, who canceled the session on Monday, said following Turnbull's address that he was "disappointed the governor offered no indication of which direction the supplemental budget will take. When it will come, we don't know."
Jones, a majority senator, said he had mixed reactions to the speech and was expecting more specifics. And he said the Senate will await Turnbull's supplemental budget requests before revisiting the budget. Jones did not say why he canceled Tuesday's session, but the announcement came after the majority caucused for several hours on Monday.
Lack of purpose, absence of proposals cited
Disappointment was the steady theme from most lawmakers.
Sen. Ronald Russell, also a majority member, said: "I don't have a clear picture of the state of the territory. What is it? There's promises for St. Croix, but we need implementation. If you identify a 'structural deficit,' you have to have some vision of how to mend it." He added that he is in favor of Berry's proposed financial review board — a recently revised version of her earlier proposal to established a financial "control" board which failed to muster the support of her majority colleagues.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, a minority member and president of the 24th Legislature, said he thought Turnbull's speech was "overly cautious. People are looking for a sense of hope to pump up the community. He was rather subdued. There were no major cost-cutting initiatives … Reducing cell phone use! Quite frankly, we are suffering from quality leadership. It's obvious 'Team 2003' [a reference to the Senate majority] has problems. He said nothing new."
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone of the majority agreed. "There were no specifics, no long-term planning. He made no mention of the federal government's continuation on the ban on Cuba, which is a boon for the V.I. He made no mention of small business development, which is the backbone of our economy; no mention of the lack of textbooks in the schools or the curriculum; no specifics on the Tax Assessor's Office; nothing specific."
Sen. Usie Richards, the minority leader, also criticized the speech for presenting "nothing new, no major initiatives." He added: "It is incumbent on the legislative branch to control the purse strings. We need to revisit the budget and make it line item, and remove the power from the governor and the Office of Management and Budget, and require the department to be accountable."
Further, Richards said, "The capital projects he mentioned have been around for decades … And the governor has not rolled back the exempt employees' raises. He made a gesture, but it didn't go far enough." After granting hundreds of unclassified employees raises ranging from about 20 percent to more than 50 percent prior to the 2002 general elections, Turnbull last year rejected the Senate's demand that he rescind them as a condition of its acting on his fiscal recovery proposal to float $235 million in bonds. However, in July, he ordered reductions of 2 to 10 percent in the raises for persons making more than $40,000 a year.
A pledge to firefighters protesting quietly outside
Richards had criticism on Monday night for his majority colleagues as well: "I am totally disappointed in the 25th Legislature's leadership."
As a small group of firefighters led by union local president Daryl George protested quietly across the street from the Legislature Building, Turnbull touched lightly on the issue of the raises negotiated in 2002 for firefighters, teachers and other unions that have yet to be implemented. "As soon as the funds are there we will use them, but they must be there,"
; he stressed.
However, Sen. Louis Hill, a majority member, had a few kind words for the governor's address. "I thought he was upbeat," Hill said. "I'm optimistic that he mentioned the waterfront project."
Turnbull discussed several St. Thomas projects, citing the $8 million committed by the Port Authority for redevelopment of the Charlotte Amalie waterfront. He also noted that $10 million in bond proceeds will be dedicated to the long-planned Carifest theme park and referred to the Yacht Haven renovation and expansion project: "We will revitalize the marine industry with the link from Havensight to downtown," he said, adding that plans also are under way for redevelopment westward along the waterfront from the seaplane terminal to Crown Bay.
Sen. Carlton Dowe, a minority member and an advocate for capital projects, said that to the administration's credit, "Enighed Pond has taken off," a reference to the long-awaited construction of a commercial port on St. John. "But you have to look at the problems on St. Croix," he said. "I didn't hear any new initiatives, any new policy changes. We know about the property tax. We know about Botany Bay and Yacht Haven."
Dowe continued: "We have to raise some money. More than anything else, I was listening for more coming out for St. Croix … We can't talk about what we have to do; the action must show that we are determined to fix it, Move the $7 million for the tech park on St. Croix. There are major companies waiting in the wings, waiting to get in."
Aaron Reiff also contributed to this story.
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