Governor balks at paying WAPA
Published: February 24, 2014
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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr. has responded to a letter from Sen. Craig Barshinger regarding the government's ability to pay its Water and Power Authority bills.
Barshinger sent the governor a letter earlier this month, pressuring him to implement the Single Payer Utility Fund for the government.
The fund first was proposed in a bill sponsored by Barshinger and co-sponsored by Sen. Terrence Nelson.
The bill passed but was vetoed by the governor, and the Senate overrode the veto.
The new law establishes a Single Payer Utility Fund for the sole purpose of paying the electric and water bills of government departments and agencies.
The Single Payer Utility Fund would comprise appropriated funds that previously have been released and deposited in the operating accounts of departments and agencies.
The senators say the fund - administered by the V.I. Finance commissioner - would ensure that the V.I. Water and Power Authority would get paid in a timely manner, thereby having the cash on-hand to perform necessary scheduled maintenance at the power plants.
Despite the fact that the fund must be established by law, deJongh has not implemented it.
"I do not believe that the implementation of The Single Payer Fund, pursuant to Act. No. 7562, addresses the real issues, for even with this mechanism, we would be experiencing a significant payment shortfall," the governor wrote in his response to Barshinger.
DeJongh wrote that the reason he vetoed the legislation was that it would just create another "bureaucratic layer" for processing payments to the V.I. Water and Power Authority without requiring oversight to control costs.
"Additionally, my veto message highlighted that you placed the expense of the certain utilities on the General Fund without identifying the funding to absorb that responsibility. I acknowledge the veto," deJongh said.
Barshinger said it sounds like the governor is refusing to implement the new law.
"He's really saying 'I'm not willing to do it,'" Barshinger said. "He has to follow the law."
Under the system of government established by the Organic Act, there is no recourse for the governor to refuse to enact legislation passed through the legislative process. Failure to do so could result in the Senate taking the governor to court.
In his letter, deJongh also objected to Barshinger's assertion that the government currently owes WAPA $25.4 million.
The governor said that amount is not just executive branch obligations, but includes autonomous and semi-autonomous agencies - such as the hospitals - the courts and Legislature, as well as the streetlights.
The aggregate amount owed by the executive branch does not exceed $6.2 million, according to the governor.
Barshinger said even if that is true, it still means WAPA is suffering at the hands of the government.
"Clearly between $3 and $6 million is something directly under his control that isn't being paid," Barshinger said.
DeJongh said he agrees that the balances must be addressed, but the real relief will come when the methodology for paying streetlights is fixed and the hospitals are adequately funded.
Currently, the streetlights are funded by property taxes, but deJongh said that revenue is not enough.
In his letter to the governor, Barshinger also had asked for some additional information, including:
- The uncontested, past-due balances owed to WAPA by the V.I. government, per department and agency.
- The projected debt during the next six months to WAPA by the government, with breakouts for all departments and autonomous and semi-autonomous agencies.
- The governor's plan for bringing the outstanding balances current.
Barshinger also asked for the governor to detail any contested WAPA bills the government has.
DeJongh's response was that all the information should be provided by WAPA.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.