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HomeNewsArchivesFederal Money Debate in Senate Sparks Inter-Island Squabble

Federal Money Debate in Senate Sparks Inter-Island Squabble

June 20, 2007 — Last-minute bills considered during Wednesday's full legislative session brought on several rounds of heated debate on the Senate floor, pitting the majority against the minority and, in some cases, St. Thomas against St. Croix.
The inter-island argument began during a Committee of the Whole hearing Tuesday, as senators convened to discuss a community development block grant (CDBG) bill recently submitted by Gov. John deJongh Jr.
The governor's bill — which shifts approximately $2.3 million in CDBG funding to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) to cover the cost of buying land on St. Thomas and making certain infrastructure repairs to the Calabash Boom project on St. John — would ensure that the federal government doesn't cut the territory's share of CDBG funding, according to representatives from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
In an effort to remain in compliance with federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines, DPNR has to expend at least $3.8 million in CDBG funding by August. Since DPNR has already reserved $1.4 million, the bill proposes to turn over the remaining $2.3 million to VIHFA.
The governor's bill hinges on VIHFA's ability to repay the loan, since the $2.3 million is getting transferred from a number of previously approved CDBG projects — some dating as far back as 1986. DPNR representatives said the projects will not move forward if the funds do not get reimbursed.
During Tuesday's meeting, several senators questioned why the loan to VIHFA does not include opportunities for land acquisition or economic-development projects on St. Croix. This debate carried over into Wednesday's full session, as St. Croix senators said they would not support the bill as submitted unless St. Croix is included in the proposal.
"If this bill is not amended, the governor should be ashamed of himself for sending this crap down to the Legislature," said Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville. "It's about the equal distribution of resources here — there should be some gains for St. Croix."
While Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe argued that inter-island politicking did not have to be introduced into Wednesday's discussion, a majority of the St. Croix senators — along with a few from the St. Thomas-St. John district — banded together. They introduced an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which splits the $2.3 million between VIHFA and a land-acquisition project on St. Croix.
According to the amendment, $1.3 million of the reprogrammed CDBG funds will go to DPNR to purchase 44.5 acres in Estate Stony Ground on St. Croix for the construction of a multipurpose indoor facility and other government buildings. The remaining amount will go to VIHFA as an interest-free loan.
However, the amendment also stipulates that VIHFA choose between spending the money on the Calabash Boom project or purchasing approximately 57 acres on St. Thomas for the construction of low-income housing units in Estate Donoe.
While a majority of senators supported the amendment, Sen. Ronald E. Russell pointed out that the owners of the property on St. Croix have not yet indicated whether they are interested in selling the land to government.
Russell voted against the amendment, while votes in favor came from Sens. Liston Davis, Dowe, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Basil Ottley Jr., Richards, James Weber III and Alvin L. Williams.
Sens. Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr. were absent.
Senators also butted heads during the session on a $6.3 million supplemental-budget bill deJongh submitted early Wednesday afternoon.
The bill shifts funds from the miscellaneous section of the fiscal year 2007 budget to cover several critical government expenses, including territory-wide road-repair projects and gas coupons for government vehicles, according to Debra Gottlieb, director-designee for the Office of Management and Budget.
Senators transitioned into a Committee of the Whole hearing to take testimony from Gottlieb and Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, who came to justify the appropriations listed in the supplemental-budget bill. At the end of the hearing, however, senators decided to continue the discussion on Friday, when the Committee of the Whole is scheduled to consider two other proposals recently submitted by deJongh.
While senators agreed that some of the supplemental appropriations may be necessary, many said they also wanted government representatives to justify exactly what the funds will be used for, and why they need to be spent immediately. Others, such as Sen. Neville James, chastised deJongh for "sending down the bill at the last minute" and "forcing" senators to approve the measure "with a gun against" their heads.
Gottlieb said she will come prepared on Friday to justify the supplemental-budget request, but told senators that several appropriations included in the bill are necessary expenditures meant to take the territory through the current hurricane season. Other spending measures, she said, are needed to cover cost overruns incurred by a few government departments and agencies.
The Senate will vote on the bill Friday after hearing more testimony from financial team and other government representatives, Richards said.
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June 20, 2007 -- Last-minute bills considered during Wednesday's full legislative session brought on several rounds of heated debate on the Senate floor, pitting the majority against the minority and, in some cases, St. Thomas against St. Croix.
The inter-island argument began during a Committee of the Whole hearing Tuesday, as senators convened to discuss a community development block grant (CDBG) bill recently submitted by Gov. John deJongh Jr.
The governor's bill -- which shifts approximately $2.3 million in CDBG funding to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) to cover the cost of buying land on St. Thomas and making certain infrastructure repairs to the Calabash Boom project on St. John -- would ensure that the federal government doesn't cut the territory's share of CDBG funding, according to representatives from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
In an effort to remain in compliance with federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines, DPNR has to expend at least $3.8 million in CDBG funding by August. Since DPNR has already reserved $1.4 million, the bill proposes to turn over the remaining $2.3 million to VIHFA.
The governor's bill hinges on VIHFA's ability to repay the loan, since the $2.3 million is getting transferred from a number of previously approved CDBG projects -- some dating as far back as 1986. DPNR representatives said the projects will not move forward if the funds do not get reimbursed.
During Tuesday's meeting, several senators questioned why the loan to VIHFA does not include opportunities for land acquisition or economic-development projects on St. Croix. This debate carried over into Wednesday's full session, as St. Croix senators said they would not support the bill as submitted unless St. Croix is included in the proposal.
"If this bill is not amended, the governor should be ashamed of himself for sending this crap down to the Legislature," said Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville. "It's about the equal distribution of resources here -- there should be some gains for St. Croix."
While Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe argued that inter-island politicking did not have to be introduced into Wednesday's discussion, a majority of the St. Croix senators -- along with a few from the St. Thomas-St. John district -- banded together. They introduced an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which splits the $2.3 million between VIHFA and a land-acquisition project on St. Croix.
According to the amendment, $1.3 million of the reprogrammed CDBG funds will go to DPNR to purchase 44.5 acres in Estate Stony Ground on St. Croix for the construction of a multipurpose indoor facility and other government buildings. The remaining amount will go to VIHFA as an interest-free loan.
However, the amendment also stipulates that VIHFA choose between spending the money on the Calabash Boom project or purchasing approximately 57 acres on St. Thomas for the construction of low-income housing units in Estate Donoe.
While a majority of senators supported the amendment, Sen. Ronald E. Russell pointed out that the owners of the property on St. Croix have not yet indicated whether they are interested in selling the land to government.
Russell voted against the amendment, while votes in favor came from Sens. Liston Davis, Dowe, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Basil Ottley Jr., Richards, James Weber III and Alvin L. Williams.
Sens. Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr. were absent.
Senators also butted heads during the session on a $6.3 million supplemental-budget bill deJongh submitted early Wednesday afternoon.
The bill shifts funds from the miscellaneous section of the fiscal year 2007 budget to cover several critical government expenses, including territory-wide road-repair projects and gas coupons for government vehicles, according to Debra Gottlieb, director-designee for the Office of Management and Budget.
Senators transitioned into a Committee of the Whole hearing to take testimony from Gottlieb and Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, who came to justify the appropriations listed in the supplemental-budget bill. At the end of the hearing, however, senators decided to continue the discussion on Friday, when the Committee of the Whole is scheduled to consider two other proposals recently submitted by deJongh.
While senators agreed that some of the supplemental appropriations may be necessary, many said they also wanted government representatives to justify exactly what the funds will be used for, and why they need to be spent immediately. Others, such as Sen. Neville James, chastised deJongh for "sending down the bill at the last minute" and "forcing" senators to approve the measure "with a gun against" their heads.
Gottlieb said she will come prepared on Friday to justify the supplemental-budget request, but told senators that several appropriations included in the bill are necessary expenditures meant to take the territory through the current hurricane season. Other spending measures, she said, are needed to cover cost overruns incurred by a few government departments and agencies.
The Senate will vote on the bill Friday after hearing more testimony from financial team and other government representatives, Richards said.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.