May 5, 2005 Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste painted a gloomy picture of the economic situation on his home island of St. Croix Thursday evening and convinced his colleagues to approve legislation he hopes will bring at least 400 jobs to the island.
Jn Baptiste said about 10,000 men and women are unemployed on St. Croix, and about 14,000 children live in poverty.
"Our people cannot afford to wait any longer," Jn Baptiste said. "We must do something for the people of St. Croix."
Putting aside political and geographical differences, senators unanimously approved Jn Baptiste's Emergency Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005.
The bill seeks to stimulate the Crucian economy by mandating the V.I. Water and Power Authority to negotiate and contract with a small power producer or co-generator that will provide 400 permanent jobs and invest $150,000 into the community annually.
The measure was no stranger to the incumbent senators. Jn Baptiste had offered almost the same bill as an amendment to the Financial Services Act in the previous Legislature. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the Financial Services Act in November because of Jn Baptiste's amendment and other amendments. The governor said then that Jn Baptiste's bill tied WAPA's hands by not allowing them to use the competitive bidding process, and it prohibited certain power producers from participating in the process. (See Turnbull Vetoes Five FY 2005 Bills.)
Jn Baptiste said he had been accused of producing special-interest legislation, but WAPA's recent decision to purchase alternative power from any entity that could provide it soonest and at a reasonable cost was a special-interest policy. (See WAPA Agrees to Purchase Alternative Power.)
"This bill levels the playing field," Jn Baptiste said.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said, "I believe that it will be good for the people of St. Croix. We need job stimulus."
Sen. Neville James said he doesn't like the word "emergency." It should be "permanent."
"God knows, we need investment in St. Croix," James said.
Senators later approved two amendments in hopes of bringing relief to union workers waiting for raises and for retirees who are owed money by the V.I. government.
The amendments are attached to a bill providing appropriations from the Tourism Revolving Fund for V.I./Puerto Rico Friendship Day and Emancipation Day activities. Senators hope to vote on the bill Friday, after weighing it down with amendments.
Sen. Roosevelt David sponsored the legislation for the union workers. The measure seeks to appropriate $10 million from the General Fund to fund the negotiated union contracts this fiscal year.
Senate President Lorraine L. Berry urged her colleagues not to vote for the measure, saying the Office of Management and Budget had projected a $60 million deficit.
"The fact of the matter is we have a budget deficit," Berry said.
David said the money was there because the hurricane loans were forgiven and the $22 million that would have been used for that this year is available.
Senators approved the measure with an 11-4 vote. Sens. David, Craig Barshinger, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, James, Jn Baptiste, Terrance "Positive" Nelson, Ronald E. Russell and Celestino A. White Sr. voted in the affirmative. Sens. Berry, Liston Davis, Shawn-Michael Malone and Usie Richards voted against.
Figueroa-Serville sponsored the legislation to pay the government retirees who were owed money by the government. The measure seeks to appropriate $900,000 from the Union Arbitration Fund to pay the debt. The fund currently has $9.4 million.
Senators approved the measure unanimously.
All senators were present at Thursday's session. The Senate will resume session at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
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