May 31, 2004 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposed executive branch budget for fiscal year 2005 apparently was dropped off at the Legislature Building 'round midnight Saturday. Although this was ahead of the Sunday midnight deadline, two senators were not impressed by the dark-of-night delivery.
A Government House release issued Monday afternoon stated that the proposed 2005 budget is for $565.5 million, "$25 million less than the total funding requested by the governor in fiscal year 2004." The new budget calls for "significant expenditure reductions, coupled with some new tax revenue measures," the release stated.
Although the release noted that the budget was submitted "24 hours in advance of the May 30 deadline," Sens. Louis Hill and Celestino A. White Sr. expressed disappointment on Monday that the document had been handed over to a security guard sometime Saturday night.
White said during Monday morning's Memorial Day ceremony in Emancipation Garden on St. Thomas that the way the document was presented "doesn't show any respect." He noted that the governor did the same thing last year — although that delivery did not take place until Aug. 29, three months late.
Hill agreed about the Saturday night drop-off. "It doesn't show proper respect for the Legislature," he said. "It should have been delivered Friday. That way the staff could have looked at it. I have no official comment now, because I haven't had a chance to examine it."
Turnbull wasn't revealing anything on Monday. Speaking after a veterans memorial ceremony, he said it was a "tight" budget and that his top priorities remain the same — "education, health and public safety." He has called a press conference for 3 p.m. Tuesday, where it is expected he will elaborate on his proposals as well as react to the heavily amended supplemental FY 2004 budget that was delivered to his desk last Wednesday.
The 2004 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 and the 2005 one begins on Oct. 1.
In the release, Turnbull termed his 2005 budget "austere" and said education remains his No. 1 priority. The Education Department budget "is expected to assist the department [to] regain accreditation for the public high schools and meet the mandates of the compliance agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Virgin Islands," the release stated.
The budget also includes major funding for the Public Works, Justice and Human Services Departments and the Office of Lieutenant Governor, "to meet court-ordered mandates for the management of solid waste and wastewater, … prison reforms, residential care services and the assessment programs for real property taxes," according to the release. And it includes "new funding for the debt service to repay recently issued bonds and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hurricane Marilyn community disaster loans."
The release quoted the governor as saying: "The bridging mechanism of borrowing must now extend to maximizing revenues through proactive and extensive revenue collection efforts, additional revenue-enhancement initiatives and expenditure reductions for public and private entities that rely on the General Fund as a source of funding. Ultimately, all branches of government must be cognizant of the fact that the General Fund is over-obligated and voluntarily step up to the plate in sharing in expenditure reductions."
When word came last week that the 2005 spending plan would arrive on schedule, Hill had expressed satisfaction. He said he hoped next fiscal year's budget would make the territory safer and improve the public school system.
The end of May is the traditional time of year for the Legislature to start the budget-making process, commencing with an analysis of the governor's proposal by the Senate post auditor, working under the supervision of the Senate Finance Committee chair.
Judi Shimel contributed to this report.
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