The Finance Committee held in committee on Tuesday a Government House proposal giving the government authority to get a rolling loan to even out cash flow during financially constrained years and enacting other measures to help the territory deal with very tight finances this year.
Proposed at the request of Gov. John deJongh Jr., the bill approved in committee Tuesday would authorize the government to issue revenue anticipation notes of up to $40 million annually in order to improve cash flow in the months when tax revenues are lower than average. The debt contract would require the loan be paid in full that same fiscal year and so would not add to the overall government debt from year to year. [Bill 30-0154]
It would also appropriate $12 million from the General Fund to the Division of Personnel to pay additional employer costs for health insurance coverage for V.I. government retirees.
The bill would increase the Bureau of Corrections appropriation for the current fiscal year by $3 million and make it a lump sum budget, so Corrections can use the funds more efficiently.
And the bill reprograms $1.2 million to the Labor Department to pay interest on the Unemployment Trust Fund that was used for payments to the unemployed.
Another section of the bill directs the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to continue issuing real property tax bills at 1998 rates, thus allowing the government to issue and collect property taxes before reassessing all real property in the territory. It extends the 1998 assessments for use through the 2012 tax year.
When Government House announced it was proposing legislation earlier in June (See related links below), it also included a measure extending the unpopular 8 percent pay cut proposed and enacted by the Legislature in 2011 as an emergency budget measure.
Originally scheduled to expire July 3, 2013, deJongh proposed extending the cuts through the end of this fiscal year. That measure was not a part of the bill approved Monday, however, and several members of the Senate majority, including Sen. Craig Barshinger, said the Legislature was unlikely to vote to extend them. The pay cut was not included because Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly has submitted legislation concerning that subject and, by V.I. Senate tradition, has "preempted" that subject, preventing anyone else from submitting legislation.
The committee also voted to hold in committee a supplemental budget request for V.I. Superior Court. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clifford Graham at the request of the court, would have appropriated $5.5 million from the General Fund for the current Fiscal Year 2013. [30-0145]
V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue testified the court system would not have enough funds to operate for the rest of the year without an additional cash infusion. Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb testified that the funds did not exist. Sen. Donald Cole said the bill was being held in the hopes of finding a revenue source.
"I’m not promising you this (will happen), but we will be searching for some source of funding," Cole said.
The Finance Committee approved a bill, sponsored by Cole, Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone and Janette Millin Young, to appropriate $100,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund to the Little League of the Virgin Islands for off-island travel. [30-0014]
And it approved a bill, sponsored by Malone at the request of the governor, to allow 2010 funding for a longitudinal study to remain available until expended. The bill also made a technical change to the law to allow the Commissioner of Property and Procurement to use the Business and Commercial Properties Fund for the operations of the department. [30-0130]
Present were Cole, Rivera-O’Reilly, Graham, Sens. Judi Buckley, Myron Jackson, Clarence Payne III and Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
The two approved bills will next be considered by the Rules and Judiciary Committee.