After months of wrangling over draconian cuts throughout the V.I. government, the Rules and Judiciary Committee approved a proposed $19.8 million 2012 budget for the Legislature Monday—unchanged from 2011.
Senate President Ronald Russell said the actual costs of running the Legislature had grown substantially, with increased expenses for health care, utilities, supplies and other requirements.
"I am pleased this majority has not decided to increase the budget," Russell said, describing it as "austere."
"The real cost of running the Legislature is $23.8 million," said Russell. "But we have reduced that cost to remain the same."
Beyond Russell’s brief comments, there was no discussion of the Legislature’s proposed budget, or what impact a recent across-the-board 8-percent salary cut for government employees would have on the Legislature’s personnel costs. As with most other budget bills, the Rules Committee sent the Legislature’s budget appropriation on to the full Legislature under a closed rule, meaning no amendment will be allowed. Unlike other budget bills, the Legislature’s budget was not discussed and debated in committee hearings before being sent on to the full Legislature.
Voting to send the Legislature’s budget for a final vote were Russell, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve, Celestino White and Usie Richards. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen was absent at the time of the vote.
Rules and Judiciary also forwarded all the 2012 budget bills on to the full Senate for final approval Monday after making a slew of minor adjustments to the appropriations approved in the Finance Committee.
Senators increased the General Fund appropriation to fund all the executive branch agencies, from V.I. Fire Services to the Department of Education—by far the largest single budget bill—from roughly $602.7 million to $603.5 million. Among the changes, senators:
— increased funding for the Office of the Governor from $8.6 million to $9 million;
— increased funding for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor by $45,000 to $7.1 million;
— added $350,000 to the Miscellaneous section for employee separation costs for the Legislature;
— added a $630,0000 appropriation to pay outstanding obligations to government vendors;
— added $480,000 to the $46 million V.I. Police Department budget appropriation for Law Enforcement Supervisors Union promotions;
— and reduced several small miscellaneous appropriations by a few tens of thousands of dollars here and there, using the savings to add $38,000 to help track and field athletes train for the Olympics, and to pay for 15 charitable appropriations ranging in cost from $5,000 to $40,000.
Other last-minute budget adjustments Monday included:
— increasing the University of the Virgin Islands’ General Fund appropriation from $30.9 million to $31.6 million, earmarking $100,000 for its hotel management program and $15,000 for maintenance of bathrooms at Brewer’s Beach and several other specific expenses;
— increasing the WTJX Public Television appropriation from $4 million to $4.2 million;
— increasing the V.I. Waste Management Authority General Fund appropriation from $25.9 million to $26.8 million.
All told, 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. The budget presently also does not include cost-cutting measures proposed by the deJongh administration, such as eliminating nine unpaid holidays, nor a revenue-generating proposal to increase the territory’s gross receipts tax a second time this year, from 4.5 percent up to 5 percent.
All the budget bills will go to the full Legislature for a final vote during legislative sessions this week.