Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Thursday submitted his first executive budget to the 33rd Legislature to fund the operations of the Government of the Virgin Islands for Fiscal Year 2020.
Bryan’s FY 2020 budget proposes $1.2 billion in expenditures, which includes $69.1 million for debt service payments, $216.3 million in federal funds, and $941.9 million in local funds, according to a news release from Government House issued Thursday evening.
“Our administration worked hard to prepare a well-researched and realistic spending plan to align government expenditures with realistic projections of revenue collections,” Bryan said. “Even more important, we are also addressing the long-standing obligations of the Virgin Islands that represent deficits in our treasury. I want to thank our finance team led by Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal for their work on our administration’s first budget.”
Bryan said the budget’s revenues reflect an economy powered temporarily by recovery efforts after 2017’s storms.
“The numbers can only be maintained by being conservative in our budget approaches and building the economy that makes this revenue sustainable,” Bryan said.
“I have proposed a budget that provides the needed resources, while rebuilding and enhancing the services we provide to our employees and our community as a whole,” he said in Thursday’s news release. “Yes, there must be belt-tightening and innovative approaches that will sometimes make us uneasy, but with a collaborative commitment throughout government, we are sure to experience the success that will benefit our beloved Virgin Islands.”
The governor’s FY 2020 budget assumes no debt financing or new taxes and includes full funding for the pay increases negotiated by the previous administration, which added an additional $41 million to the personnel services section of the budget. It also includes one percent set aside for expected salary increases.
“The practice of ignoring imminent pay increases in the budget is irresponsible at best, so we have made an annual allotment of one percent of the budget to allow for any increases. Additional funding has also been added in anticipation of concluding contract negotiations with the other bargaining units currently in negotiations,” Bryan said.
Government House noted that the budget also includes a $75 million set-aside to pay income tax refunds owed to Virgin Islands residents, an increase in the minimum requirement of the Insurance Guarantee Fund from $10 million to $20 million and a $5 million appropriation to the Budget Stabilization Fund.
The FY 2020 Executive Budget contains notable increases to the Virgin Islands Fire Service for the transfer of Emergency Medical Service personnel from the Department of Health to the Fire Service. It also sets aside $7.1 million in funding for mental health services in the Department of Health for individuals with mental illness who are in, or at risk of entering, the justice system.
The budget calls for equal distribution of general fund resources to both the Schneider Regional Medical Center and the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital at $22 million, and an increase to the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation.
OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal said Wednesday the FY 2020 Executive budget “signals a turning point where we were able to plan for current service levels while making additional strategic investments with ongoing and one-time-only resources,” and said that it “reflects a balanced approach to spending, cautious optimism, and continued responsible fiscal management.”
The budget proposes $817.8 million for the Executive Branch, a decrease of $39.4 million from FY 2019, $23 million for the Legislative Branch and $35.2 million for the Judicial Branch.