Governor, Legislature battle over budget
Published: September 26, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Gov. John deJongh Jr. took to the airwaves on Wednesday, firing off yet another round of harsh criticism at senators about their Aug. 7 rejection of a proposed agreement with HOVENSA that his administration negotiated - and calling on them to ratify it now.
"I go to work every day - seven days a week - and will not lose hope or faith in our future," deJongh said. "But I have lost patience with those who will not recognize what must be done and then do it."
The governor talked about Senate inaction and about the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which senators will be considering during a two-day legislative session that begins today. He called on the senators to find a way to grow revenue and cut costs to pass a balanced budget.
At one point, he criticized senators for their criticism of him.
"This budget hole was partly dug by their past inactions, their past votes and their unwillingness to deal with the reality that for too long has been right in front of us all. They have long known of the financial situation, and this body has not passed one single revenue-raising measure," the governor said. "They have, however, found the energy to criticize me and my financial team but yet not offered any alternatives."
DeJongh insisted he is doing his job and said senators should do theirs.
By mid-afternoon, senators were firing back.
Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone released a statement saying that the governor "should stop pointing fingers and get to work renegotiating an improved agreement with HOVENSA to facilitate the sale of the refinery.
"Rather than go on the air to frighten the public and blame the 30th Legislature for all of this territory's fiscal woes, the governor should take steps to send down a wholly legal agreement with HOVENSA that protects the interests of the people of the Virgin Islands," Malone said. "I sent a letter outlining very specific suggestions for improving the HOVENSA agreement so that senators would be able to ratify it in good conscience, and the governor refused to reopen negotiations."
Malone said that in his opinion, approving "such a flawed agreement" would be a violation of the public trust.
Sen. Clifford Graham, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, issued a statement about deJongh's "contemptuous radio address," and the governor's move to blame the Legislature for the territory's financial problems.
Graham provided history and background, saying that these financial problems started around 2008 with the recession.
Graham also described the budget process this year and said that as of Sept. 20, the Finance Committee and the majority caucus had balanced the FY 2014 budget, closing budget gaps "with a number of revenue-generating measures and a number of cuts to departments, agencies and miscellaneous sections of the budget." He called it a "daunting and difficult task."
But Graham said that the Interior Department's recent decision to provide the territory with a lower rum cover-over advance than asked for had left a new gap of an estimated $35 million.
Graham said that even if the Senate had ratified the HOVENSA agreement, and HOVENSA had begun the process of trying to sell the refinery, the sale and any economic return "would not have materialized in time to fill the FY 2014 budget gap."
Graham then said it was time for the finger-pointing to stop.
"Our financial situation is dire, and this is no time to be casting nor deflecting blame to any entity, as it is necessary for all of us to come together to address these needs," Graham said.