V.I. senators’ allotments for the 30th Legislature, which were challenged by members of the legislative minority during inaugural ceremonies and since, have been revised to conform to V.I. law after a legal review, Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone announced Monday.
The adjustment slightly reduced the budgets previously announced for the Senate president, Rules Committee chair, Finance Committee chair and majority leader, according to a statement from Malone’s office.
Senators were sent a memo about the changes Monday morning. The revision does not result in any increase in senatorial allotments, according to Malone.
"The chief legal counsel was directed to review existing laws governing senatorial allotments and determined two statutes governing the subject were contradictory," Malone said.
The issue of allotments came into the spotlight during inaugural ceremonies on St. Croix, Jan. 16, when Sens. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said minority senators’ allotments had been cut to the point where they would have to lay off staff. The senators asked for increases.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Donald “Ducks” Cole said allotments were divided according to statute, and he read aloud the section of law determining senatorial allotments.
The law calls for each member to receive 2 percent of the total Legislature budget. It allocates an additional 1 percent of the Legislature budget (amounting to 50 percent more than the base allotment) for the office of the senate president. Each committee chair gets an additional 0.5 percent of the budget (amounting to 25 percent more than the base allotment). It calls for an additional 0.5 percent for the office of the senator at large.
"The 29th Legislature passed an operational budget of $17.8 million. Do the math," Cole said.
Since then, some senators did the math and the math came out that the allotments included a little more than the law prescribed for the senate president, majority leader and Finance and Rules Committee chairs.
Asked about the discrepancy last week after the state of the territory address, Cole and Senate Vice President Sammuel Sanes both said it was an error, where the Legislature followed past practice and an older law that was partly overridden by a 2005 act of the Legislature. Both said at the time that the allotments would be revised.
"There there was a 1969 law that authorized them … and because of the 2005 law, there was an oversight," Cole said last week. "We will revise and revamp in accordance with the law. An oversight was made it was brought to our attention and the majority determined we will fix that oversight," Cole said.
"I am happy to say at this time we are in the process of rectifying this mistake," Sanes said last week. "Legislatures in the past may have ignored it. But we are fixing it. We want to ensure the public we will do whatever it takes to bring back the respect and integrity of this institution," Sanes concluded.
In his announcement Monday, Malone said the experience "reaffirms my contention that it is urgent for the Legislature to review existing laws and remove contradicting measures that were not removed when laws were updated throughout the years."