Feb. 6, 2009 — Just an hour after returning to the territory from Washington, D.C., Gov. John deJongh Jr. got right back down to business Friday, signing into law the entire $844 million revised fiscal year 2009 budget bill recently passed by the Legislature.
In a letter sent to Senate President Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg along with the budget, deJongh kept his remarks short, but commended senators on their "prompt" approval of the bill during a full session last month.
"The adjustments contained in the revised budget will place the government in a better position to meet its financial obligations as we navigate the tumultuous financial challenges brought on by the worldwide economic downturn," the governor wrote. The revised FY 2009 budget bill is only about $100,000 less than the spending plan signed into law last October, and ultimately seeks to close up some of the funding holes left open when the document emerged from the Senate's budget mark-up process.
Since the government is working on less revenue as a result of the harsh economic climate, the bill that senators passed last year needed to be readjusted to accommodate critical projects and costs, the governor has said.
Overall, the budgets have increased for most departments and agencies, except the Governor's Office, Lieutenant Governor's Office and the Legislature, whose budgets remain the same. The larger budgets include more money for salary increases implemented during FY 2008 and health-insurance costs for government employees, retirees and their dependents.
Continuing to leave out the salary increases would have added to the government's retroactive-wage debt, which has been estimated around $400 million, members of the governor's financial team said during last month's session.
The revised budget also factors in a 3 percent increase in employer contributions to the Government Employees' Retirement System, along with funding for two outstanding court settlements; rent owed to GERS by the Justice Department and Division of Personnel; the administrative expenses of the territorial hospital board; additional tourism promotions; and debt services or financing costs associated with the territory's 911 communications system.
To fund the increases and other critical items, financial team members have said a 10 percent cut was applied to most items in the miscellaneous section, which contains funding for a variety of items ranging from community programs to third-party fiduciary costs. Also cut were the budgets of the V.I. Superior Court (down $5 million), University of the Virgin Islands (down about $500,000), V.I. Waste Management Authority (down about $1.8 million), WTJX Public Television (down nearly $400,000), Office of Management and Budget (down $307,745), and Department of Finance (down $1.1 million).
Current budget projections are some $70 million less than what was projected in September 2008. Cuts factored into the revised bill, along with additional transfers out from various government funds into the General Fund have helped to reduce the shortfall to about $36.8 million, financial team members have said.
Other provisions in the revised bill include a $10 million transfer from the government's Budget Stabilization Fund to the General Fund, along with an extra $1 million contribution from the Caribbean Basin Initiative Fund, $1 million from the Interest Revenue Fund, and $18 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund, or rum revenues. (See "New Senate Passes Governor's Budget Bill Without Changes.")
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