Published: January 26, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The 30th Legislature's non-majority senators cried foul shortly after they took office when it became clear that they were not going to share in any of the extra financial allotments afforded to committee leaders.
But at least some of those allotments appear to violate a 2005 law that attempted to standardize how the V.I. Legislature handles committee allotments, Legislature documents show.
In response to a public records request from The Daily News, the office of Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone on Thursday provided a document titled, "2013 Senatorial and Committee Annual Allotments."
The document shows that, in addition to regular allotments for senators, the Senate president and the Senator At-large, different committees in the 30th Legislature, are getting varying allotments.
For instance, seven Senate committees will receive an $80,000 allotment, while the Rules Committee, Finance Committee and the Committee of the Whole will receive larger allotments. The majority leader also will receive an extra $80,000, according to the document from Malone.
The law states: "Members designated as committee chairs by a resolution passed by a majority of senators, in addition to the base allotment, shall all receive an equal additional allotment not to exceed .5% of the total budget of the Legislative Branch to perform the additional responsibilities of chairing their respective committees."
Half a percent of the Legislature's current budget of $17.8 million is $89,000. The committee allotments range from $80,000 to $135,000, according to the document from Malone's office.
Malone did not return a number of messages during two days to discuss the variation.
The law also says nothing about giving a committee allotment to the majority leader, though it does allow "additional compensation" for the president, vice president, secretary or majority leader if so provided by standing rules or a resolution.
Sen. Donald Cole, the leader of the 30th Legislature's 10-member Democratic majority, said Friday that no such rule or resolution exists for the 30th Legislature. However, he said the Senate rules do assign him additional duties - such as coordinating with the Senate president's office, presiding over majority caucus meetings and managing legislation during floor debate - that merit the additional funding.
"The majority leader has a role to play," Cole said. "The rules would allow it because there are duties assigned. The majority determined that the majority leader needed assistance in carrying out those duties. I need assistance. If it's not allotted, I have to dip into my allotment to do that."
Cole also said the allotment was "based on precedents" from prior Legislatures.
"There's the law, and then there's the spirit of the law," Cole said. "It's not in the law, but the 10-member majority decided that it was needed, and I'm sure previous majorities decided that. The practice is to assist the majority leader with the duties assigned."
But Sen. Terrence Nelson, one of the sponsors of the 2005 legislation to standardize committee allotments, called the 30th Legislature's allotments "not fair at all."
"It appears they are taking their own discretion as it relates to putting different weights on committees," Nelson said. "I think it's a political move, and it's a greedy, selfish move."
Nelson, who is not a member of the majority caucus, said the unbalanced allotments are evidence that the majority is unlikely to live up to the 30th Legislature's motto of "Lead By Example."
"The proof is going to be evident that they are unable to lead by example because they are still stuck in an old-guard mentality," Nelson said.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, who also is not a member of the Senate majority, expressed similar sentiments. She said she was not made aware of the committee allotments, and she was waiting to see if Malone would post the information online as part of his professed commitment to transparency.
Cole responded to such criticism by pointing out that the dissenting senators are free to form a minority, which he pledged would get an allotment equal to the majority's, or to completely reorganize with a new majority of at least eight members at any time.
But Rivera-O'Reilly remained critical of allotments - the majority leader's allotment in particular - and wondered where the Legislature would get the funding for a minority allotment if such a caucus were to form.
"I would have to get $80,000 just to be able to pull people's strings?" she said. "These are supposed to be austerity times. How is that leading by example?"
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com Senate and committee allotments
- Senate President: $534,000.
- At-Large senator: $445,000.
- 13 other senators: $356,000 each.
- Committee of the whole: $135,000.
- Finance committee: $100,000.
- Rules committee: $90,000.
- Majority leader: $80,000.
- Seven other committees: $80,000 each.