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Layoffs Prompt Closed-Door Senate Caucus Monday

The V.I. Legislature will meet in a closed-door caucus Monday afternoon on St. Croix, Senate President Ronald Russell confirmed Friday.

"The subject of the meeting is to deal directly with the impending terminations announced by the governor," Russell said in a phone interview.

In the wake of a deadlock between the office of Gov. John deJongh Jr. and the Legislature over the governor’s proposals for raising revenue and closing a $67 million 2012 budget deficit, deJongh announced Wednesday the government was running on empty, down to $15 million in cash in the bank.
He said the government will immediately begin layoffs to avoid bouncing checks.

DeJongh’s initial plan involves dismissing 143 temporary, per diem, and part-time employees before the end of the year. Friday was their last day at work, but they are to be paid for another two weeks. Soon after, on Jan. 5, 2012, an additional 350 employees will be dismissed, and if nothing happens to improve the fiscal situation, there will be a second and third wave of dismissals, affecting 1,000 or more government employees by the end of January, according to Government House.

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"We are meeting to find ways to avoid that and come up with a plan to deal with the deficit," he said.

"We need to avoid at least the second wave of terminations," Russell said Friday. "The first wave, we can’t stop. They began today (Friday) and continue on January 5. But we need to avoid at least the second wave of dismissals. I don’t think this community can absorb another large wave of dismissals."

Russell said Monday’s meeting is a caucus and not a formal session or Committee of the Whole hearing, and will be behind closed doors, with no news media.

Asked about comments he made during a legislative session called by the governor one week ago that the Legislature should wait until after the Crucian Christmas Festival to meet, Russell said the Legislature "never stopped meeting," and was still looking for solutions.

"I think people misread that statement," Russell said. "We have never stopped discussing some of the issues. There has been no session to take action and no official meeting, but we are continuing to work.”

As to what the Legislature would ultimately do, Russell said several senators had made proposals, but no consensus had formed around any of them. With the layoffs focusing minds, Russell said he hoped the senators could come together behind some of them.

"We have always had plans, but never had a consensus on any of them," Russell said. "Several senators, including myself, who have had plans, but have not been able to find a consensus. This time I think we can find consensus. … We have to reconsider all options at this time."

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The V.I. Legislature will meet in a closed-door caucus Monday afternoon on St. Croix, Senate President Ronald Russell confirmed Friday.

"The subject of the meeting is to deal directly with the impending terminations announced by the governor," Russell said in a phone interview.

In the wake of a deadlock between the office of Gov. John deJongh Jr. and the Legislature over the governor's proposals for raising revenue and closing a $67 million 2012 budget deficit, deJongh announced Wednesday the government was running on empty, down to $15 million in cash in the bank.
He said the government will immediately begin layoffs to avoid bouncing checks.

DeJongh's initial plan involves dismissing 143 temporary, per diem, and part-time employees before the end of the year. Friday was their last day at work, but they are to be paid for another two weeks. Soon after, on Jan. 5, 2012, an additional 350 employees will be dismissed, and if nothing happens to improve the fiscal situation, there will be a second and third wave of dismissals, affecting 1,000 or more government employees by the end of January, according to Government House.

"We are meeting to find ways to avoid that and come up with a plan to deal with the deficit," he said.

"We need to avoid at least the second wave of terminations," Russell said Friday. "The first wave, we can't stop. They began today (Friday) and continue on January 5. But we need to avoid at least the second wave of dismissals. I don't think this community can absorb another large wave of dismissals."

Russell said Monday's meeting is a caucus and not a formal session or Committee of the Whole hearing, and will be behind closed doors, with no news media.

Asked about comments he made during a legislative session called by the governor one week ago that the Legislature should wait until after the Crucian Christmas Festival to meet, Russell said the Legislature "never stopped meeting," and was still looking for solutions.

"I think people misread that statement," Russell said. "We have never stopped discussing some of the issues. There has been no session to take action and no official meeting, but we are continuing to work.”

As to what the Legislature would ultimately do, Russell said several senators had made proposals, but no consensus had formed around any of them. With the layoffs focusing minds, Russell said he hoped the senators could come together behind some of them.

"We have always had plans, but never had a consensus on any of them," Russell said. "Several senators, including myself, who have had plans, but have not been able to find a consensus. This time I think we can find consensus. ... We have to reconsider all options at this time."