DeJongh OKs budget bills, urges Senate to fix shortfall
Published: October 6, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The governor approved a string of budget bills for Fiscal Year 2013 late Friday with a single line-item veto and a request to the Senate to reconsider passing budget-balancing legislation he submitted with the executive budget.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. encouraged the Senate to fix the existing shortfall in the budget by passing enabling legislation he submitted along with the executive budget. The Senate tabled four of the governor's budget-balancing proposals and sent two to committee for further review.
Among the governor's proposals were one that would have changed the government's health insurance program from a 65/35 employer-employee split to a 60/40 split. Another would have saved about $1.9 million a year by eliminating the night-shift payroll differential, which gives higher pay rates to those who work at night.
DeJongh also proposed a measure to eliminate the government's obligation to pay half of the malpractice insurance premiums for private practice physicians who also do work for the government, along with another piece of enabling legislation to force semi-autonomous and autonomous agencies to pick up the cost of health insurance for their retirees.
The governor's transmittal letter to Senate President Ronald Russell also questioned a provision in the budget bill that allows the government to use up to $14 million in local funds - except from the St. John and St. Croix Capital Improvement Funds and the V.I. Water and Power Authority Generating and Infrastructure Fund - for operating costs. DeJongh said the territory's "precarious financial conditions" mandates that the government "access the monies only to the extent that we are able to identify appropriate funds to be tapped for such support."
The governor similarly commented on a miscellaneous $300,000 appropriation in the same bill entitled "'8% reduction,' which one can only presume would be designed to offset the reduction in legislative employee salaries under the Virgin Islands Economic Stability Act of 2011."
DeJongh said that while legislative employees are working for reduced salaries, the Legislature has never transferred these savings to the General Fund, as did the executive branch and its agencies.
"So a 'restoration' through an increased appropriation of the Legislature's resources hardly seems fair or appropriate when compared to the substantial cut in services absorbed by others," deJongh wrote.
The governor also expressed concern that the Legislature underfunded the University of the Virgin Islands and the Government Employees' Health Insurance Program. DeJongh said he understands the funding issue with UVI "was inadvertent and will be addressed at the next Legislative Session."
DeJongh added that the Legislature's delay on the 60/40 split on health care "as a practical matter has underfunded the Government's share of the health insurance premiums in Fiscal Year 2013."
The only line-item deJongh vetoed would have expanded the territory's industrial investment incentive law by allowing "a myriad of businesses in the professional services arena" to qualify for economic incentives by meeting certain requirements, including employing five, rather than the current 10, Virgin Islands residents.
DeJongh said the provision, if approved, would be detrimental to those businesses already benefitting from the law.
"Moreover, I am opposed to making such targeted changes in our industrial investment incentive law when a more comprehensive review and holistic revision of its terms is the more prudent course to follow," deJongh wrote.
The V.I. government operates on a fiscal year calendar of Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The assortment of bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2013 budget for the V.I. government was passed through the Senate at a two-day session in September.
DeJongh had until Friday to act on them.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.