In dueling letters these last two weeks, Sen. Craig Barshinger castigated Gov. John deJongh Jr. for $25.5 million in overdue government electrical bills and deJongh responded most of that, such as bills for the Legislature, hospitals and streetlights, is not under his control.
On Feb. 12, Barshinger wrote deJongh, saying WAPA lost $9.9 million in 2013 while "the amount the V.I. Government owes to the utility for electricity has increased to a total of $25,458,791."
Barshinger urged deJongh to put in place the single-payer utility fund mandated by legislation he and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson sponsored. The legislation, enacted over deJongh’s veto, requires a separate fund for all government agencies’ utility bills with the aim of preventing any cash-strapped agency or body, such as the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, from diverting money for utility bills to other purposes. [Act 7562]
Barshinger also requested deJongh provide the Legislature the "uncontested, past due balances owed to WAPA by the Government, per department and agency," projected debt to WAPA over the next six months, and his "plan for bringing the outstanding balances current."
DeJongh responded with a letter Feb. 18, saying Barshinger was asking the governor to account for utility bills from "government" agencies that are out of its control, including the Legislature, the Judiciary, the territory’s two hospitals and for streetlights.
Of the $25.5 million, deJongh said $3.5 million is owed by executive branch departments and agencies; $9.7 million owed by the two hospitals; $9.3 million owed for streetlights; and $2.9 owed by semiautonomous and independent entities like the Legislature and courts.
"We do not by any means minimize the need for the authority to be paid what it is owed for the service provided, but your misrepresentation of what is owed by the executive branch is unfounded," deJongh said.
DeJongh said that he agreed with Barshinger "that we must address the amounts due (to WAPA) but our emphasis has to be in addressing the balances, not in dramatic assertions or by ignoring the essence of the issue."
This requires addressing the past due amounts owed by our hospitals and changing how streetlights are paid for, he said. Legislation has set aside a portion of real property taxes for streetlights, but that amount has not been sufficient, so a change to the legislation is needed, deJongh said.
DeJongh suggested Barshinger contact WAPA for past due balances and amounts more than six months old "as it would be able to give a more accurate accounting for a billing cycle."
"I am hopeful that this provides a better understanding of our payment of amounts due to the authority and indicates that we take payment of these obligations extremely seriously. I am prepared to work with you on a realistic solution," deJongh concluded.