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Senate Minority Criticizes Lump-Sum Appropriations in Budget

Sept. 14, 2007 — Attempts by minority senators to break through the majority caucus' budget mark-up process fell by the wayside Friday as the first draft of an $825.2 million General Fund budget made its way through the Finance Committee and onto Rules.
The minority's greatest bone of contention lay in the fact that the fiscal year 2008 budget grants lump-sum appropriations to government departments and agencies. It's clear that the government is pulling in increased revenue collections, they said, and the Legislature should want to prevent overspending by delineating exactly what the money will be used for.
"In hard times, we pass lump-sum budgets to give more flexibility to the administration, and give increased discretion to the leader of a particular agency," said minority leader Sen. Ronald E. Russell. "But when you have all these excess funds and supplemental budgets coming down freely, that's the time when this body has to exercise fiscal responsibility and line-item matters."
Describing the miscellaneous section of the budget as "horrific," minority senators said several youth organizations, sports clubs and community-service groups would also feel the blow of budget cuts this year.
"I commend the majority for putting in the time to attempt to address the needs of this community," said Sen. Neville A. James. "But I see a lot of gaping holes in the miscellaneous section. The V.I. Olympic Committee, for example, is getting nothing — and this is an Olympic year. In fact, a lot of sports initiatives look like they took a hit — nothing for swimming or track and field. Things are so bad, it seems, that the United Way, according to this bill, gets nothing, and that's unfortunate."
Majority senators countered by standing their ground, and describing the budget as a "potpourri" filled with a variety of necessary appropriations for organizations such as the St. Croix Women's Coalition and Dial-A-Ride, along with millions of dollars for employees' pay raises and pending contract negotiations.
"No budget is perfect," said Sen. Liston Davis. "But if you don't support this one, you don't support some very serious projects."
Other senators wound their arguments into elaborate metaphors, foreshadowing that the budget — even with the $26.1 million increase — will not stay like it is for long.
"What we have is the beginnings of a budget — the mystery here is what it will look like in the end," said Sen. James Weber III. "The minority certainly described the shortcomings, but sometimes you have to wait for your birthday to get the gift. Oct. 1 is the birthday. What we're figuring out now is how to wrap the package."
In it's initial form, the General Fund portion of the budget was based on projected revenue collections of $799.2 million. When the Senate's budget process wrapped up late last month, representatives from the governor's fiscal team said collections were expected to pick up as property-tax payments start to filter in, jumping another $26.1 million.
Senators took full advantage of the anticipated increase when marking up the budget, bringing the total amount of General Fund appropriations to $825.2 million. In the draft bill passed during Friday's hearing, total appropriations for government departments and agencies total $692.4 million, while miscellaneous budget appropriations added up to $131.8 million.
Speaking after Friday's hearing, however, Finance Committee chairman Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said those figures are expected to change as a variety of amendments make their way onto the floor when the proposal moves forward through the Rules Committee and full Senate.
With the changes, total General Fund appropriations for departments and agencies are expected to total approximately $560.6 million, while miscellaneous appropriations add up to $127.3 million, he said. Keeping the overall appropriation figure at $825.2 million, the budget also includes:
— $51.2 million to be split between the Legislature and the judicial system;
— about $63 million for the government's semi-autonomous agencies;
— nearly $8.3 million in supplemental appropriations; and
— approximately $10.7 million in appropriations already approved by the Legislature.
Recent correspondence from the governor's financial team indicates revenues are supposed to climb another $10 million, which could also be used up as the budget process moves forward, Nelson said.
"We'll just have to see what happens," he said Friday.
Present during Friday's meeting was Davis, along with Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, James, Nelson, Russell and Weber.
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Sept. 14, 2007 -- Attempts by minority senators to break through the majority caucus' budget mark-up process fell by the wayside Friday as the first draft of an $825.2 million General Fund budget made its way through the Finance Committee and onto Rules.
The minority's greatest bone of contention lay in the fact that the fiscal year 2008 budget grants lump-sum appropriations to government departments and agencies. It's clear that the government is pulling in increased revenue collections, they said, and the Legislature should want to prevent overspending by delineating exactly what the money will be used for.
"In hard times, we pass lump-sum budgets to give more flexibility to the administration, and give increased discretion to the leader of a particular agency," said minority leader Sen. Ronald E. Russell. "But when you have all these excess funds and supplemental budgets coming down freely, that's the time when this body has to exercise fiscal responsibility and line-item matters."
Describing the miscellaneous section of the budget as "horrific," minority senators said several youth organizations, sports clubs and community-service groups would also feel the blow of budget cuts this year.
"I commend the majority for putting in the time to attempt to address the needs of this community," said Sen. Neville A. James. "But I see a lot of gaping holes in the miscellaneous section. The V.I. Olympic Committee, for example, is getting nothing -- and this is an Olympic year. In fact, a lot of sports initiatives look like they took a hit -- nothing for swimming or track and field. Things are so bad, it seems, that the United Way, according to this bill, gets nothing, and that's unfortunate."
Majority senators countered by standing their ground, and describing the budget as a "potpourri" filled with a variety of necessary appropriations for organizations such as the St. Croix Women's Coalition and Dial-A-Ride, along with millions of dollars for employees' pay raises and pending contract negotiations.
"No budget is perfect," said Sen. Liston Davis. "But if you don't support this one, you don't support some very serious projects."
Other senators wound their arguments into elaborate metaphors, foreshadowing that the budget -- even with the $26.1 million increase -- will not stay like it is for long.
"What we have is the beginnings of a budget -- the mystery here is what it will look like in the end," said Sen. James Weber III. "The minority certainly described the shortcomings, but sometimes you have to wait for your birthday to get the gift. Oct. 1 is the birthday. What we're figuring out now is how to wrap the package."
In it's initial form, the General Fund portion of the budget was based on projected revenue collections of $799.2 million. When the Senate's budget process wrapped up late last month, representatives from the governor's fiscal team said collections were expected to pick up as property-tax payments start to filter in, jumping another $26.1 million.
Senators took full advantage of the anticipated increase when marking up the budget, bringing the total amount of General Fund appropriations to $825.2 million. In the draft bill passed during Friday's hearing, total appropriations for government departments and agencies total $692.4 million, while miscellaneous budget appropriations added up to $131.8 million.
Speaking after Friday's hearing, however, Finance Committee chairman Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said those figures are expected to change as a variety of amendments make their way onto the floor when the proposal moves forward through the Rules Committee and full Senate.
With the changes, total General Fund appropriations for departments and agencies are expected to total approximately $560.6 million, while miscellaneous appropriations add up to $127.3 million, he said. Keeping the overall appropriation figure at $825.2 million, the budget also includes:
-- $51.2 million to be split between the Legislature and the judicial system;
-- about $63 million for the government's semi-autonomous agencies;
-- nearly $8.3 million in supplemental appropriations; and
-- approximately $10.7 million in appropriations already approved by the Legislature.
Recent correspondence from the governor's financial team indicates revenues are supposed to climb another $10 million, which could also be used up as the budget process moves forward, Nelson said.
"We'll just have to see what happens," he said Friday.
Present during Friday's meeting was Davis, along with Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, James, Nelson, Russell and Weber.
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.