May 30, 2005 Gov. Charles W. Turnbull took advantage of his veto power late Saturday, line-item vetoing several sections of a heavily amended bill passed by the V.I. Legislature May 6.
The bill sought to appropriate $300,000 from the Tourism Advertising Fund for V.I./Puerto Rico Friendship Day and Emancipation Day activities. Despite warnings from Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards that the Tourism Fund was already committed, senators approved the bill after tacking on 31 amendments to it, two of which appropriated more money from the Tourism Fund for a total appropriation of $545,000 from the fund. In all, $12.7 million would have been appropriated if the bill had been turned into law in its entirety.
The bill would have provided $150,000 in annual funding for the St. Croix celebration of Virgin Islands/Puerto Rico Friendship Day activities and another $150,000 annually for the Frederiksted Economic Development Association Emancipation Day activities.
Turnbull, in his cover letter to Senate President Lorraine Berry, said, "As a territory with diverse communities, I support celebrations honoring our diversity." However, he said the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund cannot "sustain this appropriation." He said the fund is already appropriated for other obligations, which he did not name.
Also, Turnbull noted, it would not be a one-time expense, but would "occur annually for an indefinite period of time." As proposed, the funds would be taken annually without any further legislation, which the governor said is "not fiscally responsible in these economic times."
As could have been anticipated, the governor once again vetoed union raises for which the Legislature had appropriated $10 million for the negotiated union contract in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2005.
However, the governor covered his tracks on this one. He preempted the Legislature by including a similar appropriation, about $1 million less, in his Fiscal Year 2006 budget, which he sent to the Legislature on Friday.
"It should be noted," Turnbull said, "that we have included $9,006,127 in the FY 2006 budget for negotiated contracts, in anticipation of a continued increase in our revenues and a favorable response from the Treasury Department."
In the same paragraph, the governor said he had vetoed the $10 million appropriation. "While there has been some increase in revenues," Turnbull said, "we are still not out of the thorny economic winds. Some clouds of uncertainty still linger overhead. We do not know the full impact of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 on the Economic Development Commission program, and on our general economy." (See "V.I. Advised to Stand Up for Itself on EDC Issues").
Most of the amendments appropriating monies from various government funds were vetoed from the bill, including $75,000 for the Eastern Caribbean Friendship Committee for activities during Labor week.
Turnbull also vetoed a section appropriating $900,000 from the Union Arbitration Fund to pay retirees who are currently suing the government for money owed to them. Turnbull said the matter is currently pending before Superior Court and should be decided by the court.
"To date, it has not been determined how much, if anything, is owed to the retirees," Turnbull stated. "Therefore, it would not be prudent to appropriate an amount that cannot be verified, and which appears to have been arbitrarily selected."
Other items vetoed in the bill include:
– A section attempting to repeal a portion of the Financial Services Act that reduces the time period for foreclosure to three months. Turnbull said he vetoed the section because the measure's intent was to reinstate the current three-month period to what it was previously six months but the amendment had the wrong number 12 instead of six.
– A section requiring government departments, agencies and instrumentalities, to set aside 3.5 percent of their budget for paying unionized contracts and set aside money to pay utility bills from the V.I. Water and Power Authority. The governor said the measure was "discriminatory" against non-union employees, and said it was also redundant because a portion of each department's budget is set aside of utility payments.
– A section that would prevent members of the Board of Education from receiving scholarships and loans offered by the board. Turnbull said the measure was "far-reaching," and individuals who qualified for a loan should not be discriminated against simply because he or she sits on the Board of Education or any other board that grants or administers scholarships.
– A section mandating that the governor of the Virgin Islands must submit the executive budget by March 31 instead of the current May 30. Turnbull said this would result in a budget that does not reflect a true analysis of the fiscal year.
– A section providing career incentive pay for corrections officers, firefighters and others. The governor said the Career Incentive Pay Program has not been successful and has created financial difficulty for the government.
– A section repealing the $25,000 cap in suits against the V.I. Port Authority with respect to injury, loss of property or death. Turnbull said the measure "borders on special interest legislation because it appears that the Port Authority is being singled out."
– A section making changes to the Physician Assistant Licensing Act of 2005. Turnbull said he could not adopt the changes because the Physician Assistant Act has not yet been signed into law.
– A section allowing the Government Employees Retirement System to invest in senior life settlement policies. The GERS consultants did not have the privilege of reviewing the measure before the Senate passed it, and Turnbull said they must review it and make recommendations to the GERS board before it could be adopted.
– Four sections that would have diverted 10 percent of proceeds from the V.I. Lottery and video lottery terminals to be placed in the Territorial Scholarship Fund instead of the Educational Initiative Fund. Turnbull said although the intent of the measures was for a "worthy cause," doing so would put the public high schools' accreditation at risk because the money in the Educational Initiative Fund was to ensure the Education Department would have site-based management for the public schools.
– A section reducing the amount of time a retired government worker can receive retirement benefits after being rehired in the public sector from three years to 75 days. The governor said 75 days was "too short a period."
– A section setting the maximum penalty for nonpayment of property taxes at no more than 25 percent of the taxes owed by the individual. Turnbull said the measure would make it easier for people to avoid paying their taxes.
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