With a single "nay" vote, the V.I. Legislature overrode Gov. John deJongh’s veto and forgave all the debts owed it by the territory’s two hospitals during the Thursday session – a sum Government House says is more than $80 million.
When considering the matter, senators emphasized the dire financial condition of the hospitals, the corresponding low probability of getting paid, and the fact that the government requires the hospitals to provide care regardless of one’s ability to pay. In his veto, deJongh said the measure was not thought out and waiving the debt would ultimately just put the burden onto V.I. taxpayers.
"Nowhere is it evident that the Legislature has considered the impact that this legislation would have on our ability to raise or borrow money or reimburse fund transfers," deJongh said in his veto letter.
Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, in particular, is facing a serious fiscal crisis, and debt forgiveness will make it easier for the institution to get its books out of the red and into the black.
Voting to override the veto and forgive the hospitals’ debts were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis Hill, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie Richards, Ronald Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve, Celestino White and Janette Millin-Young. Sen. Alvin Williams voted nay. Absent were Sens. Craig Barshinger, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly.
The Legislature also overrode deJongh’s veto to enact the Farmers, Fishermen and Consumers Assistance Act, redefining what qualifies as agricultural activity eligible for agricultural tax exemptions, and broadening the category to include commercial fishing.
Those who meet the definition are eligible to be exempted from trade and excise taxes on building materials and supplies: franchises taxes and license fees stemming from agricultural operations and all local fees for operating a motorboat.
Agriculturalists may be exempt from gross receipts taxes on the fruits of their labors and eligible for a subsidy equivalent to 90 percent of income tax paid on agricultural income.
Also enacted over the governor’s veto was a measure issuing medical and dental licenses for two-year periods.