The Senate Finance Committee pushed through bills appropriating roughly $692 million from the General Fund out of committee Monday, sending the budgets for nearly every part of government but the Legislature itself out of committee for final consideration and marking one of the last steps in the 2012 budget process.
The committee approved $602.7 million in General Fund appropriations to fund all the executive branch agencies, from V.I. Fire Services to the Department of Education. Separately, it sent forward bills appropriating another $88.8 million from the General Fund to the University of the Virgin Islands, the V.I. Waste Management Authority, the territory’s judicial system, WTJX Public Television, the Office of the Supervisor of Elections and a handful of other purposes.
When other anticipated expenses are added in, the 2012 General Fund budget is expected to reach about $719 million—somewhat less than the $732.5 million proposed by Gov. John deJongh Jr., according to Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, the committee’s chairman.
The committee also trimmed the budget’s miscellaneous section to $81.2 million, down from the administration’s proposed $83.4 million.
"These are hard times and we must demonstrate we are serious," Dowe said of the cuts.
Senators also voted against administration proposals aimed at balancing the budget that would have instituted nine unpaid holidays and ended a six-month grace period on penalties for 2006-2008 property tax bills. If the grace period were eliminated, penalties and interest on those three tax bills would begin immediately, which would be a burden for those struggling to pay several year’s taxes this year, Dowe said.
After a long hiatus due to litigation over property assessment procedures, 2006 property tax bills were issued last year, and the three subsequent years’ bills were issued earlier this year.
While Dowe supported keeping the paid holidays and the property tax grace period, the holidays alone would cost the government roughly $13 million in revenue for the upcoming year, he said.
"It means in this budget we must take some action to make the budget have some semblance of being balanced," Dowe said.
The committee also approved appropriations Monday of:
— $131 million from the Special Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Finance Department to pay principal and interest on government bonds;
— $4.2 million from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund with $1 million going to Public Works and $3.2 million to the V.I. Waste Management Authority;
— $1 million from the General Fund to the Board of Education for scholarships;
— $1 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles;
— $1.9 million from the Business and Commercial Properties Revolving Fund to the Department of Property and Procurement, Business and Commercial Properties Division;
— $2.3 million from the Government Insurance Fund to the Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health and Worker’s Compensation, and $684,000 from the same fund to the Department of Finance;
— $3.9 million from the Health Revolving Fund to the Health Department;
— $5.3 million from the Indirect Cost Fund to the Office of Management and Budget, the Division of Personnel and departments of Finance and Property and Procurement;
— $4 million from interest on debt service reserves to the General Fund;
— $1 million from the Interest Revenue Fund to the General Fund;
— $897,000 from the Union Arbitration Award and Government Employee Increment Fund to the Public Employees Relations Board and $165,000 from the same fund to the Labor Management Committee;
— $1.7 million from the Public Services Commission Revolving Fund to the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs for PSC expenses;
— $3 million from the Sewer Waste Water Fund to the Waste Management Authority;
— $3 million from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to Public Works and the WMA;
— $2.3 million from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund to be divided between the Office of the Governor, Police Department, Public Works, WMA and Tourism Department;
— $644,000 from the Taxi Revolving Fund to the V.I. Taxicab Commission;
— $2 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund.
The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee will make final changes Sept. 19, and the full Legislature will address all the budget bills in session Sept. 20-21, said Senate Majority Leader Celestino White.
Taking a moment away from consideration of the 2012 budget to take care of some final 2011 budget adjustments, the committee approved a request by Human Services Commissioner Chris Finch to transfer $393,000 from 2011 salaries and benefits to pay local matching requirements for several federally funded programs, including $351,000 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
All votes were unanimous. Present were Dowe, Sens. Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Janette Millin-Young, Sammuel Sanes and Celestino White. Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly was absent.