Senators added new appropriations totaling more than $2.2 million and passed a cornucopia of legislation as amendments to an unrelated bill on Wednesday.
Currently the U.S. Virgin Islands is facing a $110 million budget deficit that the government hopes to fill with new borrowing. It faces ongoing structural deficits of about $170 million out of an annual locally funded budget of about $850 million. With cash reserves below the level of appropriations, the Department of Finance allocates expenses according to available funding, so it remains to be seen which of the new appropriations will be spent.
One sponsored by Sens. Kenneth Gittens, Sammuel Sanes and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly appropriates $1 million for St. Croix roadwork.
An amendment from Sen. Marvin Blyden appropriates half a million dollars "from any available funds" to the Department of Health to fund a successful Catholic Charities program for the chronic homeless called "Home At Last."
"This is a crisis situation where 27 individuals will be homeless in a matter of weeks," Blyden said. The clients will be going to Human Services for assistance if they end up homeless again, which will still use up V.I. government resources, Blyden said.
Blyden said there has been communications with Human Services suggesting the amount will be funded.
– $250,000 to buy music instruments and renovate the music room at St. Croix Central High;
– $250,000 for a Department of Education social studies and history workbook project;
– $150,000 for air conditioning at Eulalie Rivera Elementary;
– $10,000 to the Gentleman of Jones to pay that organization to put up Christmas lighting in Christiansted;
– $10,000 to the Frederiksted Economic Development Association for a concert and fireworks celebrating the V.I. centennial;
– $10,000 to We From Upstreet Inc.;
– $9,500 to Salvation Army USVI;
– $6,000 to the St. Thomas Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol;
– $6,000 to West Stars Steel Orchestra;
– $1,000 to pay for foreign language students to travel to Puerto Rico;
– and a portion of $592,000 in unspent bond funding for an array of small capital projects for the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation.
Other amendments made an array of changes to V.I. law.
One from Gittens added a definition of "turpitude" to the V.I. Code, that included any violation of law that involved dishonesty or poor morals, and putting in a long list of actions, including "willful failure to file income taxes," along with murder, perjury, child abuse, selling drugs and fraud.
Former Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who was reelected this year, was briefly removed from the ballot for violating a federal "moral turpitude" statute for her conviction for willful failure to file income taxes. Former Gov. John deJongh Jr. later pardoned her.
"This amendment seeks to address a matter that this body has failed to address for many years," Gittens said, adding that the V.I. Supreme Court had said the definition is unclear and had asked the Legislature to clarify it.
Gittens’ turpitude definition was supported by 11 senators, with Rivera- O’Reilly, Sens. Positive Nelson and Janette Millin Young voting no. Sen. Jean Forde was absent.
An amendment from Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd said the government "may convey" a portion of government land adjacent to parcel 1-B Estate Contant, No. 2 Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, to Ecedro Wesselhoft to "cure encroachments" onto the government’s property.
Another amendment gave the V.I. Public Services Commission explicit authority to regulate cellular and other telecommunications in addition to landline telephone and cable television.
There were several other minor amendments that had small impacts on the law.
The underlying bill [Bill 31-0496] appropriates $1 million to the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital for emergency repairs to air conditioning at the hospital, needed to make sure JFL retains accreditation to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
Approving the bill as amended were Blyden, Rivera-O’Reilly, Sanes, Liburd, Sens. Novelle Francis, Clifford Graham, Justin Harrigan, Myron Jackson and Kurt Vialet. Voting no were Millin Young, Nelson and Sen. Tregenza Roach. Gittens and Sen. Jean Forde were absent at the time of the vote, although Gittens was present when the bill was discussed.