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Appropriations Move through Finance to Rules Committee Despite Grumbling from Minority

Sept. 21, 2005 – In the midst of heated exchanges and charges of secret meetings and broken promises, the Senate Finance Committee forwarded six appropriations bills, with favorable recommendations, to the Rules Committee Wednesday.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville delivered what Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg called a "diatribe" on a bill that appropriates $74 million for the operation of several government agencies and programs for the fiscal year beginning in two weeks on Oct. 1.
Figueroa-Serville called the bill a "slap in the face to Virgin Islanders." He said, "What a joke this is. What great disrespect this shows for the people of St. Croix, for my constituency."
Figueroa-Serville, a member of the Senate minority, was upset because he perceived that the specifics of this bill and others before the committee had been determined at a secret "mark-up" session to which he had not been invited.
He said, "I have not missed one committee meeting. I take this job seriously. I was given the word of an honorable man that I would take part in the process, and I was left out."
He said the bill was full of problems. He said Fire Services needed more like the $22 million it requested than the $14 million appropriated in the bill. He said the Bureau of Information Technology had no accounting of what it did with funds this year, but yet the bill grants the Bureau another $1.1 million next year.
He said the Housing Parks and Recreation Department has "clearly been under funded for four or five years" and this bill continues that under funding. He said if he had been at the "mark-up" meeting, he could have at least suggested putting another $1 million in the department for youth programs.
Donastorg and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, majority members, both took offense at Figueroa-Serville's comments. Donastorg pointed out that this bill and the other bills being introduced were based on recommendations made by the governor. Jn Baptiste, "It is not over until it is over." He said that all senators had a right to propose amendments to the bills.
In fact, Donastorg came prepared with a couple of amendments for the bill.
He asked if the governor and lieutenant governor knew that more than 30 percent of St. Croix was of Hispanic origin. He decried that the recommendation that came before the Senate was for only $30,000 funding for the Puerto Rico Friendship Day. He said, "Every year this event grows even though it is funded so poorly."
His amendments, which in an act of conciliation he asked Figueroa-Serville to share sponsorship on, raised the funding to $75,000.
The committee approved that amendment along with a second one by Donastorg adding $350,000 to Housing, Parks and Recreation for a boxing program.
However, members of the majority did not get off that easy. Minority members Minority Sens. Roosevelt David and Neville James both said Figueroa-Serville's comments were accurate — that the majority often practiced exclusionary politics. James questioned why the majority still had not published what each individual senator received as a budget allotment.
David said the Legislature appeared to function on two levels. One level was the public hearings, where issues were debated and a second level "behind closed doors." where issues were decided.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson tried to reach some middle ground. He said the Senate could go down some "unprecedented paths" and be more inclusive in all its deliberations.
Other bills concerning the upcoming fiscal year and forwarded to the Rules Committee were:
— Bill No. 26-00111 – to appropriate $23.2 million for salaries and expenses of the University of the Virgin Islands.
— Bill No. 26-0112 – to appropriate $4.6 million to WTJX Public Television System.
— Bill No. 26-0114 – to appropriate $21.2 million to the V.I. Waste Management Authority.
— Bill No. 26-0146 – to provide $24.9 million for salaries and operating expenses for the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and the Judicial Council.
— Bill No. 26-0147 – to provide $2.6 million for operating expenses of the Office of the Territorial Public Defender.
Jn Baptiste said he believed there was going to be a surplus in the budget this year and departments that did not get all the funds they requested might have an opportunity at a later date to have those requests fulfilled.
Action on the Omnibus Authorization Act of 2006 was taken off the agenda
Attending the hearing were: Sens. Jn Baptiste, James, Figueroa-Serville, Donastorg, David, Nelson and Usie Richards.

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