Gov. deJongh OKs majority of budget bills
Published: October 16, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Three weeks into Fiscal Year 2014, Gov. John deJongh Jr. approved the bulk of the budgetary legislation passed during the 30th Legislature's last session, but he continues to refer to the budget as "work in progress" and to call on senators to work with him towards plugging gaps in revenue and expenditures.
"I urge you and members of the 30th Legislature to continue our mutual efforts to balance the Fiscal Year 2014 Executive Budget through further discussions with my financial team on the impact of the revenue and expenditure assumptions," deJongh wrote to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone. "I stand ready to work with you to bridge the necessary revenue and expenditure gaps."
Malone said that he had not yet reviewed the governor's transmittal letter, issued late Tuesday evening, but that any implication in the governor's remarks that the budget is not balanced is off-base.
Malone said the Legislature anticipates receiving approval from the Interior Department that the rum cover-over will be received at a higher rate pending the extension of legislation by Congress. The news that the Interior Department was using the lower rum cover-over rate for a portion of how it calculated the cover-over funds advanced to the territory upset the budget process late into FY 2013, with a potential $70 million hole threatening to throw off the General Fund.
Malone said that the Senate anticipates passing a number of revenue generating measures during its next session, which also would solve any implied imbalances in the FY 2014 budget.
"I prefer to wait and see what he is referring to with those gaps," Malone said. "The Senate will continue to work with the administration as we have been doing, and mutually we will be considering policies that will generate revenue for the territory."
A $756 million General Fund budget was approved by the Legislature Sept. 30.
The governor approved 30-0209, the main FY 2014 budget bill, but line-item vetoed a special appropriation to Luis Hospital for $6 million. The governor's letter said it would be unrealistic to expect the hospital to be able to repay such an amount in the period of time required in the absence of any identified repayment source.
The governor also approved a slew of ancillary bills connected to appropriations for various departments and semi-autonomous government agencies through revolving and other funds, according to a transmittal letter.
Non-budgetary bills that the governor approved mainly focus on combatting and preventing crime in the territory. These include:
- A computer and cyber crimes act, which seeks to curtail computer trespassing, cyber terrorism, unauthorized network manipulation, phishing, hacking and cyber stalking.
- A bill establishing a regulatory framework for scrap metal dealers and recyclers, the impetus for which was a spike in the theft of copper and loose metal in the territory.
- A bill making it illegal to throw bodily fluids on people, and instituting higher penalties for people who attack prison and police officers in this manner.
- A bill modernizing the territory's law to protect men and women from being raped or sexually assaulted by their spouses.
- A bill outlawing convicted offenders from possessing body armor.
- A bill requiring the Parole Board to notify victims and their families in advance of the release of their perpetrators.
- A bill expanding the zone within which a person who is convicted of possession of an unlicensed firearm may have his sentence enhanced.
- A bill authorizing the use of bond proceeds to purchase police radios and improve tower communications.
- A bill enhancing penalties for those who assault police officers with weapons.
Other non-budget related legislation the governor approved includes:
- A bill allowing for a referendum on increasing term lengths for senators.
- A bill allowing for the development of a recreational park on St. Croix at Altona Lagoon.
The governor also approved legislation that would open the territory up to small solar providers who want to lease space on roof tops and in yards and sell generated electricity back to the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
"It is consistent with my administration's oft-stated goal to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels," deJongh wrote.
DeJongh also vetoed five bills, including one establishing a single-payer utility fund through which government departments would pay their WAPA bills. WAPA's executive leadership often has complained of large-scale delinquencies tied to government accounts and the consequent lack of funds for maintenance of grid turbines and other power network infrastructure.
DeJongh said that such a payment vehicle would just create another "bureaucratic layer" and so would be contrary to the intent of streamlining and securing government payments to WAPA.
Peace officer vetoes
DeJongh also vetoed two bills that would grant peace officer status to security officers at the Legislature and the V.I. Superior Court and to V.I. Waste Management Authority enforcement personnel. DeJongh objected to the way that such status would create "two classes" of peace officers in the territory, one 24/7 - such as police officers - and another only-on-duty hour class. He also opposed the reduction in service requirement time that would impact the proposed personnel's retirement system contributions.
Education assault veto
DeJongh also vetoed a measure that would mandate higher sentences for persons convicted of assaulting V.I. Education Department employees, calling the bill "unconstitutionally vague, overly broad and not tailored to a particular purpose."
Internet gaming veto
Another vetoed piece of legislation is Bill 30-0248, which would establish a more direct revenue stream for WAPA by removing the Public Finance Authority's jurisdiction over a series of bonds for capital improvements to the grid and which would expand master service provider status to small solar panel operators with a generation capability of less than five megawatts.
Another section of the bill would establish a master service provider for Internet gaming parlors in each district. Only businesses licensed through the master service provider would be allowed to operate as an Internet gaming establishment. Only persons who are licensed casino operators or who have agreements with casino operators for internet gaming could be master service providers.
DeJongh's veto was to the whole bill, but he specifically stated that he objected to the sections pertaining to Internet gaming and to other sections pertaining to a tax rebate program that would grant a discount up to 60 percent on overdue real property taxes.
The sections pertaining to Internet gaming would make null existing contractual arrangements, and the sections pertaining to the tax rebates are unfair to taxpayers who pay their bills on time, DeJongh said in his transmittal letter.
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