82.1 F
Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 2, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSenate Passes Its Own Austerity Bill, Without Pay Freezes

Senate Passes Its Own Austerity Bill, Without Pay Freezes

Taking matters into their own hands, senators spent until the early hours of Friday morning putting together and passing their own austerity package in hopes of stirring up some revenue for the government, but whether it’s enough to get the territory through its current $75 million shortfall is yet to be seen.

The package contains two bills. The first cuts the budgets of central government departments and agencies by approximately 3 percent, and the miscellaneous section of the fiscal year 2011 budget by 5 percent, though some of its appropriations, according to Senate staff, were further reduced or eliminated completely.

"What we have here is a line-item budget for every major department in every major category," Sen. Usie R. Richards said, adding that the dollar value of the cuts add up to approximately $25 million. "I don’t care if they have to come down here every day for the next six months to move the money around…let them come."

This first bill garnered much support from the full body, with Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Richards, Ronald E. Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Celestino A. White Sr., Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young voting in favor.

Advertising (skip)
Advertising (skip)
Advertising (skip)

Sen. Louis P. Hill voted against the bill, while Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Terrence "Positive" Nelson abstained.

The second bill, meanwhile, was offered close to midnight Friday as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the governor’s proposed austerity bill, which was submitted more than a month ago and contained provisions establishing three unpaid government holidays, increasing the gross receipts tax by 1 percent, implementing a $1 surcharge on cell phones and raising the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent.

The Senate’s version — which passed the full Senate on an 8-to-7 vote — keeps the cell phone surcharge and hotel tax increase, but slashes the section on unpaid holidays.

And despite warnings from members of the government’s financial team that anything less than a 1 percent increase in gross receipts taxes could force hundreds of employee layoffs, the amendment pushes for 0.5 percent, as senators repeatedly said that anything higher would cause local businesses to crumble amidst an already struggling economy.

Interestingly, senators seemed to factor in suggestions brought by union and local clergy members earlier in the session — which began Wednesday and continued through Thursday and onto Friday morning — about regulating the use of government vehicles and cell phones.

Despite the unions’ pleas for the cuts to come from the top, however, most of the new regulations exempt the senators, along with the governor, lieutenant governor, judges and magistrates and emergency employees.

"After the effective date of this act, all employees assigned cell phones are responsible for payment of phone bills with the exception of the governor and lieutenant governor, senators, judges, magistrates and authorized personnel of the Police Department, V.I. Fire Service and emergency service providers," one section of the amendment reads.

Another section, meanwhile, regulates daytime and home use of government vehicles, with exemptions for the same individuals mentioned above and emergency responders.

Voting in favor of the bill were Dowe, Hill, Malone, Richards, Russell, Sanes, White and Williams; while Barshinger, Hansen, James, Nelson, Rivera-O’Reilly, Sprauve and Millin-Young voted against it.

The vote caused an uproar in the audience, which, despite the late hour, had grown substantially since the session began at 10 a.m. Thursday and had, at one point, overflowed into the hallway. Government workers and citizens from across the territory decried the bills and said, in no uncertain terms, that senators’ heads could be on the chopping block if the austerity bill — specifically a provision to freeze government salaries — was passed.

While senators said early on that the unpaid holiday and salary freeze initiatives were not going to be passed, only White came forth with an alternative, suggesting that the government pay full health insurance and retirement contributions for employees who volunteer to go on leave without pay for a year.

Among other measures, the bill also:

  • cuts the budget of the V.I. Superior Court and the Judicial Council by 3 percent;
  • mandates that government fuel consumption be cut in half if the bill is signed into law, with the exception of fuel used by the hospitals, law enforcement, fire department and health and human services agencies;
  • suspends the government’s authority to procure professional and personal service contracts for two years (this provision is not applicable to contracts already in progress); and
  • puts a two-year ban on the purchase government vehicles — except for vehicles needed by Health, V.I. Fire Service, VIPD, the territory’s two hospitals and Bureau of Corrections.

All senators were present during Thursday’s session.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




2 COMMENTS

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,756FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more

Taking matters into their own hands, senators spent until the early hours of Friday morning putting together and passing their own austerity package in hopes of stirring up some revenue for the government, but whether it's enough to get the territory through its current $75 million shortfall is yet to be seen.

The package contains two bills. The first cuts the budgets of central government departments and agencies by approximately 3 percent, and the miscellaneous section of the fiscal year 2011 budget by 5 percent, though some of its appropriations, according to Senate staff, were further reduced or eliminated completely.

"What we have here is a line-item budget for every major department in every major category," Sen. Usie R. Richards said, adding that the dollar value of the cuts add up to approximately $25 million. "I don't care if they have to come down here every day for the next six months to move the money around…let them come."

This first bill garnered much support from the full body, with Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Richards, Ronald E. Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Celestino A. White Sr., Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young voting in favor.

Sen. Louis P. Hill voted against the bill, while Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Terrence "Positive" Nelson abstained.

The second bill, meanwhile, was offered close to midnight Friday as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the governor's proposed austerity bill, which was submitted more than a month ago and contained provisions establishing three unpaid government holidays, increasing the gross receipts tax by 1 percent, implementing a $1 surcharge on cell phones and raising the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent.

The Senate's version -- which passed the full Senate on an 8-to-7 vote -- keeps the cell phone surcharge and hotel tax increase, but slashes the section on unpaid holidays.

And despite warnings from members of the government's financial team that anything less than a 1 percent increase in gross receipts taxes could force hundreds of employee layoffs, the amendment pushes for 0.5 percent, as senators repeatedly said that anything higher would cause local businesses to crumble amidst an already struggling economy.

Interestingly, senators seemed to factor in suggestions brought by union and local clergy members earlier in the session -- which began Wednesday and continued through Thursday and onto Friday morning -- about regulating the use of government vehicles and cell phones.

Despite the unions' pleas for the cuts to come from the top, however, most of the new regulations exempt the senators, along with the governor, lieutenant governor, judges and magistrates and emergency employees.

"After the effective date of this act, all employees assigned cell phones are responsible for payment of phone bills with the exception of the governor and lieutenant governor, senators, judges, magistrates and authorized personnel of the Police Department, V.I. Fire Service and emergency service providers," one section of the amendment reads.

Another section, meanwhile, regulates daytime and home use of government vehicles, with exemptions for the same individuals mentioned above and emergency responders.

Voting in favor of the bill were Dowe, Hill, Malone, Richards, Russell, Sanes, White and Williams; while Barshinger, Hansen, James, Nelson, Rivera-O'Reilly, Sprauve and Millin-Young voted against it.

The vote caused an uproar in the audience, which, despite the late hour, had grown substantially since the session began at 10 a.m. Thursday and had, at one point, overflowed into the hallway. Government workers and citizens from across the territory decried the bills and said, in no uncertain terms, that senators' heads could be on the chopping block if the austerity bill -- specifically a provision to freeze government salaries -- was passed.

While senators said early on that the unpaid holiday and salary freeze initiatives were not going to be passed, only White came forth with an alternative, suggesting that the government pay full health insurance and retirement contributions for employees who volunteer to go on leave without pay for a year.

Among other measures, the bill also:

  • cuts the budget of the V.I. Superior Court and the Judicial Council by 3 percent;
  • mandates that government fuel consumption be cut in half if the bill is signed into law, with the exception of fuel used by the hospitals, law enforcement, fire department and health and human services agencies;
  • suspends the government's authority to procure professional and personal service contracts for two years (this provision is not applicable to contracts already in progress); and
  • puts a two-year ban on the purchase government vehicles -- except for vehicles needed by Health, V.I. Fire Service, VIPD, the territory's two hospitals and Bureau of Corrections.

All senators were present during Thursday's session.