Oct. 5, 2005 — Majority and minority locked horns at the Legislature's Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, as senators were asked to approve a bill only ten minutes after it appeared on the floor for a vote.
Called the Omnibus Authorization Act of 2005, the bill was supposed to have been voted on last week at the Senate's last full session, but was still in the drafting stage when called up for debate. In addition, the minority senators had to wait another four hours Wednesday before the bill was distributed and they were able to see it for the first time.
Since the bill incorporates various requests made by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull relative to the spending of more than $60 million in unanticipated revenues recently discovered by the government, minority senators were also angry that much of what went into the bill had been reviewed and deliberated on by the majority only. But despite the deliberations, Sen. Lorraine L. Berry said she still wasn't sure how much more than $60 in unanticipated revenues the government had.
Even with the additional money some senators weren't getting what they bargained for. Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said senators were to have been allotted $2 million dollars each for their own projects, to be included in the bill's final draft.
But when the bill came down his $2 million was nowhere to be found.
"Where are my appropriations," Figueroa-Serville asked.
"We all had to put aside our little pet projects in order to set some policies," Berry said.
Sen. Roosevelt C. David spoke of a meeting held in Berry's office last week, where the majority and minority had come together and committed themselves to being a "group where peace and order would prevail." David said the majority had broken that pact by constructing the bill without considering the minority's requests.
Sen. Ronald Russell said he was going to take the issue of the lack of minority input to the airwaves on his weekly radio talk show so residents could offer their opinions.
Sen. Craig W. Barshinger rounded out the minority discussions by telling the majority the measure should be entitled the "Ominous bill," since it "heralded a new era of law" in the territory. Barshinger said he was especially unhappy because a $2 million appropriation he had made for a parking facility in Cruz Bay, St. John had been cut substantially.
Barshinger was the only senator not to vote for the bill at the end of Wednesday's session, saying he had learned from the "mistake" senators had made when approving the Job Creation Act. "I have to read the bill," Barshinger said. "It's about legislation by deliberation, not legislation by coercion."
While other senators said they understood the points made by the minority, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he doesn't know why the minority would expect anything different since minority-majority collaboration is unprecedented. However, while Nelson also advocated that the lines of communication be more open between both sides, he also said senators should vote to approve the bill because it is "fair."
The majority echoed Nelson's statements by adding the bill has "something for everyone," and seeks to address some long-standing problems in the government, as well improve the quality of life for V.I. residents.
Among the long-standing problems is a matter of an almost $1 billion debt owed by the V.I. government to the Government Employees Retirement System. While the Omnibus bill does not provide a specific appropriation to deal with this debt, it does mandate 15 percent of excess revenues collected by the government each year–excluding what is needed to fund government operations– be used to reduce the unfunded liability.
In addition, the bill mandates GERS to complete their own plan to address paying off the debt. Once the plan is drafted, it must be submitted to the Legislature for review.
Another long-standing issue addressed in the bill is the $400 million owed by the government to various public sector employees. Once again, the bill does not earmark a certain amount of money for the debt. However, the bill does mandate 20 percent of excess revenues collected, outside of what is needed to operate the government, be set aside to address the retroactive pay.
Additionally, the bill has provisions for pay increases for government employees, sets aside money for government agencies to pay for gasoline for their vehicles, and gives money to the Education Department for purchasing textbooks, as well as fixing the territory's schools. "I understand," Berry said. "I had to give up my $2 million too, but these are important things."
Another small appropriation of $110,000 went to fund bathrooms and sidewalks at the Dorothea tot lot on St. Thomas' North Side.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said if the discussion continues, the Legislature's would be debating on a bill called the "No Senator Left Behind Act." Jn Baptiste defended the bill by saying he remembered when minority senators had ventured into Williams Delight on St. Croix to look into dengue fever outbreaks. "One of the senators could not get his SUV out of the area because the road was so bad," Jn Baptiste said. "I remembered that." Jn Baptiste said $1.4 million was set aside to fix the Williams Delight road.
Other bills sent down by Turnbull to address contracts entered into by Property and Procurement in violation of the V.I. Code were sent to the Finance Committee for consideration and debate.
Senators also approved a 90-day extension to the tenure of George Phillips, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, which came at the request of the governor.
All senators except Louis P. Hill were in attendance. All voted in favor of the bill except Barshinger.
A full list of the appropriations will be added to this story.
Appropriations in the Omnibus bill are:
St. Thomas/St John:
–$100,000 to the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital Nursing Program for fiscal year 2005
–$225,000 to the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute from the General Fund for fiscal year 2005
–$200,000 to the Education Department for the school psychologist internship for fiscal year 2005
–$14 million to the Education Department for books, equipment, and instructional materials for fiscal year 2005
–$2.5 million to the University of the Virgin Islands for salary increases
–$5 million to the Education Department in fiscal year 2005 for ongoing maintenance of the public schools territory wide, and repairs to the food storage warehouse, at least $1.5 million of which must be used for repairs to John Woodson Jr. High School
–$6.3 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2005 to the Government Employees Retirement System to fund unfunded mandates
–$12.5 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2005 to pay American Federation of Teachers' contracts
–$5.7 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2005 to the Department of Health for its Medical Assistance for its Medical Assistance Program to fund current and prior year obligations and to assist in creating quality control and control and front-end investigation programs
–$5 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2005 to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to be used by the Division of Libraries and Archives for books, computers, equipment, furniture, and supplies for territorial libraries and archives; renovation of existing territorial facilities and construction of a new public library for the district of St. Thomas/St. John
–$1 million from the General Fund to the Department of Property and Procurement to offset the difference in the current cost of gasoline and the gasoline coupons commensurate with the current fuel costs in the territory
–$1.5 million from the General Fund to the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to pay outstanding bills incurred by departm
ents and agencies of the Executive Branch
–C/CNTR DM 1803 Molasses Subsidy is increased by $1 million
–C/CNTR BO4042 GOVT-WIDE FMS upgrade/Third Party Fiduciary is increased by $2.3 million
–$75,000 from the General Fund to the Police Department and $200,000 to the Department of Public Works for expenses related to the Caribbean Tourism Organization conference to be held Oct. 21-26, 2005 and the Carib News Multi-National Conference to be held Nov. 10-13, 2005
–$51,000 is appropriated from the General Fund in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006 to the Civil Rights Commission
–$200,000 is appropriated in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006 to the Office of the Territorial Public Defender for salary increases
–The sum of $1 million is appropriated to the Department of Finance to provide for a "Rainy Day Fund"
–$300,000 to the V.I. Fire Service for repair of Bordeaux Fire Station
–$1 million to the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute
–$500,000 to the Education Department for Career and Technical Education for the St. Thomas/St. John district
To the Department of Public Works:
— $300,000 to repair Pillsbury Heights road
— $175,000 to repair the St. Joseph and Rosendahl roads;
–$425,000 to repair roads in Savan
–$170,000 for repairs to the Savan retaining wall
–$285,000 to repair Sorgenfri road
–$450,000 to repair roads at Anna's Retreat
–$275,000 to repair Lindberg Bay road
–$475,000 to repair the main entrance to Estate Bovoni road from the Texaco gas station north to Jenny's Hope and install swales
–$176,740 to repair the road to Victor's Hideout from Nisky cemetery
–$10,000 to repair Hidden Valley road edge and drainage
–$300,000 for repairs to roads in Hospital Ground, beginning from Denton Corner east to Jumbie Gut
–$80,000 to repair roads in Annas Retreat about Joseph Gomez Elementary School
–$40,000 for two bus shelters, one at the eastern end of Strawberry Hill, and one to the western side of Strawberry Hill
–$73,260 for retaining wall construction at Spring Hill road
–$400,000 to repair the Frydenhoj road to the food to Compass Point
–$250,000 to the Education Department to repair the rubberized track and field at Charlotte Amalie High School
To the Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreation:
–$150,000 for the Latin American/Caribbean 13-14 International Little League Baseball Tournament
–$250,000 to refurbish Charlotte Apartments, Ross Taarneberg Apartments, and Hospital Ground Apartments
–$271,000 to purchase and install bleachers at the Emile Griffith Ball Park and the Joseph Aubain Ball Park
–$65,000 to the Department of Public Works to purchase a backhoe for emergency road cleaning in St. John
–$250,000 to the Department of Public Works for island wide repair and patching of potholes on St. John
–$75,000 to the Department of Public Works for construction of sidewalks from the Sibilly Annex to the Estate Dorothea Tot Lot
–$35,000 to the Department of Public Works for construction of restrooms at the Estate Dorothea Tot Lot
–$425,000 to the Department of Property and Procurement for renovation of the satellite tower, relocation of satellite dishes, repair of the building and for the development and execution of a professional management services contract for a program manager at the Recovery Hill communications site
–$200,000 to the Department of Human Services for V.I. Partners in Recovery (the Village) Program for substance abuse treatment for indigent persons
–$15,000 for prior years' obligation for barging services rendered by Bingley Richardson
–$350,000 to the Department of Public Works to repair Bordeaux Road on St. John
–$350,000 to the Department of Public Works to repair Kingshill Road, South of Coral Bay, St. John
–$250,000 to the Department of Public Works to repair Estate Bethany Road, St. John
–$199,000 to the Department of Public Works to patch potholes island wide on St. John
–$70,000 to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to hire enforcement officers for Salt River
–$75,000 to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to for removal of derelict boats at Salt River
–$3 million to Juan F. Luis Hospital Cardiac Center to finance the construction of the Cardiac Center
–$1 million to the Department of Human Services to operate and equip the expanded wing of the Herbert Grigg Home for the Elderly
–$431,400 to the Department of Agriculture for operational expenses, including public utilities, food supplies, machinery, and other operating expenses
–$300,000 to the Education Department for the St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center for equipment and supplies for various trade shops
–$200,000 to the Education Department for Central High School for equipment and supplies for various trade shops
–$500,000 to the V.I. Fire Service for fire trucks–$200,000 for the Charles "Tappy" Seales Station, and $300,000 for the expansion and upgrade of the mechanic shop and for maintenance
–$150,000 to the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation, to resurface basketball courts and provide bleachers at the courts at La Grande Princess North Shore Road
–$1.4 million to the Department of Public Works for road paving at Estate Williams Delight
–$700,000 to the Department of Public Works for road paving at Estate White Lady and at White Bay
–$200,000 to the Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreation for tile replacement at Castle Burke Housing Community
–$50,000 to the Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreations to repair the basketball court at Ralph De Chabert Housing Community
–$78,600 to the Department of Housing, Parks, and Recreation for installation of lights and resurfacing of the basketball courts at Estate Glenn
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