Gov. Kenneth Mapp this week signed nearly all the budget bills, new laws and tax increases approved by the Legislature during its recent session.
Mapp signed an increase to the territory’s hotel room tax from 10 percent to 12.5 percent and on timeshare estates from 8 percent to 10.5 percent, where some of the new revenues will go to promote local agriculture and help finance sports programs and sports tourism. In his letter to the Legislature telling them about his actions, Mapp praised the increased agriculture funding.
"The Legislature has authorized funding that will support a soon to be created farmer’s cooperative to grow and provide fresh fruits, vegetables, seasonings and herbs for our school lunch program. We as a government, for the first time in many decades, are going to provide significant support to our farmers through the Department of Agriculture," Mapp wrote.
Thanks to funding to help farmers contribute to the school lunch program, "much more of the $8.5 million in federal dollars that we receive for our school lunch program will remain and circulate within our economy; and additional federal funds will be made available as we move to healthier meals," Mapp wrote.
In committee hearings, Internal Revenue Bureau Director Marvin Pickering said the IRB estimates the increase should generate an extra $5.8 million or so per year.
The tax currently generates around $20 million per year, with most of it devoted to promoting tourism.
Legislation mandating VITRAN bus service on weekends and holidays was approved.
He signed legislation mandating the creation of an autoimmune disease registry. The governor also approved an array of budget bills for all executive agencies, the Legislature, courts and semi-autonomous entities like the University of the Virgin Islands. Also approved were several resolutions and acts honoring various native Virgin Islanders: including an act renaming the St. John Legislative Conference Room after Cleone Henrietta Creque; making November "David Hamilton Jackson Month;" honoring jockey Julio "Maganja" Felix and honoring, for a second time, pro basketball player Tim Duncan.
Mapp vetoed modest GERS reform legislation, saying the version sent to him had drafting errors and one provision that is different from what the Legislature voted upon.
The bill presented to him increased the cap on GERS’s foreign investments from 10 to 35 percent. But after conferring with Senate President Neville James and his counsel, Mapp "learned that the Legislature voted to allow an increase in the foreign investment portfolio from 10 percent to 25 percent." This, Mapp said, "is a significant difference and cannot be considered a typographical error."
While the administration received a corrected bill, the first bill was not formally withdrawn. “Accordingly I can only act on the official version of the bill," Mapp said in his message to the Legislature.
He urged the Senate to address the typos and other problems in session and not simply override the veto. Mapp said the needed changes "present another opportunity for us to work together on concerns I have about some provisions of the bill and other reforms my administration would ask the Senate to consider," and asked the Senate to set up a meeting soon "as time is of the essence."