Gov. Kenneth Mapp on Monday signed legislation he proposed, appropriating $1 million to the Public Finance Authority for "professional services, studies, project development and expenses" related to the St. Croix Brand Hotel Project.
According to a statement from the administration, the million dollars "will provide the resources for the Virgin Islands to realistically pursue new hotel rooms on St. Croix and grow the island’s economy." [Bill 31-0375]
Mapp cited the need for more hotel rooms on St. Croix, both for the economy generally and to encourage more airlift capacity to the island.
“It is the intent of my administration to pursue arrangements with one of the top nationally recognized names in the hotel industry to develop, build and operate a first class, full service luxury resort with a minimum of 250 rooms. This upscale lodging facility will include appropriate ancillary facilities with food and beverage outlets, meeting rooms and recreational amenities,” Mapp said in his original request. No specific entity that is considering an investment has been named.
When the bill was first heard in committee June 24, Public Finance Authority Director Joanne Bozzuto told senators there was no line-item budget and that expenses were broadly related to the need to "build a relationship with China." She said when Mapp and administration officials went to China in late May and early June, they "met with Chinese hedge funds who have high, high net-worth clients."
Pressed for details of what the money was for, Bozzuto said on June 24 that she thought "part of the money is to pursue all options to bring equity investments into the territory."
Concerned over the absence of detail for what the money was to be spent on, senators amended the bill to require the administration to report back to the Legislature within 60 days of spending the first $400,000, then to report twice more, after spending another $300,000 and the final $300,000. They also added an amendment to require the administration to attempt to get a small hotel near the St. Croix airport, as it spends money in an unspecified way to entice wealthy Chinese individuals to invest in St. Croix.
Senators also used the bill as a vehicle for about $2.6 million in new appropriations and changes to several other laws and legislative acts. (See: Vague $1 Million Hotel Bill Carries Cornucopia of Extra Legislation in Related Links below)
Mapp also signed two pieces of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, that change the structure of V.I. government, moving toward a unitary elections board and a more unitary administration of the Supreme Court and Superior Court.
The territory currently has two elected boards of elections, responsible for setting policy and certifying elections in their own districts, and an entity comprised of members of both boards called the Joint Boards of Elections to vote on matters of territorial import. This structure has led to differing policies and decisions in each district, creating controversy in recent elections.
Under the law that Mapp signed into law this week, there will be a single board of elections with 14 members; seven from each V.I. district. [31-0267]
He described what he termed as the petty infighting that the Boards of Elections have become known for, as “shameful and embarrassing.” Infighting among elected members of the District Boards of Elections has resulted in inconsistencies and, in some cases, contradictions between rules and regulations by the district boards as they are administered in the same primary and general elections, he said. This measure, Mapp said, is designed to have a single board, which will make for consistency of the adoption and application of the rules and regulations.
“I am hopeful that by signing this measure into law, it will help to reduce the acrimony and petty infighting among the members of the Board of Elections," Mapp said.
The law reforming the judiciary keeps the courts’ judicial operations separate but joins them administratively. Bill 31-0255 creates a judicial administration office headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who is responsible for setting policies, preparing annual budgets and reports, jury management, records and overseeing management of court facilities. It also creates an advisory committee of the chief justice, two Superior Court judges, a magistrate judge and two associate judges to guide the judicial administrator.
The governor also signed into law increases in the territory’s mooring and anchoring fee schedules and directs the Commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources to charge a $100 fee for permit processing and a $500 fee for requested enforcement assistance. Mooring and anchoring fees in the Virgin Islands have not been increased since their implementation in 1992.