House of Representatives passes CFO bill
Published: August 2, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to give the territory a chief financial officer to help manage the government's resources.
The current version of the bill - H.R. 3706 - was introduced by V.I. Delegate Donna Christensen in December. It is the fourth time in nine years she has introduced such a bill, although it has taken different forms over the years.
The bill was called up for a voice vote Tuesday - and one was taken - but a member objected to the vote and pointed out that the House had lost its quorum, so the vote was postponed.
Wednesday, the House called the bill back up to the floor and took a voice vote.
Now that the bill has passed the House, it will go to the U.S. Senate to move through the committee process before being considered by the full body. If approved by the Senate, it would go to the president for his signature or veto.
The legislation would set up an independent CFO for the territory to make revenue projections and set limits on spending each fiscal year. The CFO would serve a five-year term, and after four years, the territory's voters would decide in a ballot referendum whether to keep the CFO longer.
While Christensen does not have a vote on the floor of the House, she can speak on the House floor about the bill.
In her introduction to the bill Tuesday, she said the most recent incarnation of the bill is modeled on the chief financial officer position of Washington, D.C., which has been in place for about 20 years.
"While I have been severely criticized by some for its introduction, I believe that having an independent third party to determine the amount of revenues the local government has available to spend for the ensuing fiscal year is a positive development for our government. It is generally supported by a broad cross-section of our electorate," she told the House Tuesday.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. opposes the bill, and has called it "deeply flawed" legislation. In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, the governor said the measure creates a new level of bureaucracy rather than addressing the fundamental causes of the territory's fiscal challenges.
"Not only does the bill miss the mark in its diagnosis of the problems, it creates a false illusion of fixing them," deJongh said.
He said the current financial challenges were caused by a drastic drop in revenue that started four years ago, the result of the global economic downturn.
"I am not under any illusion that my CFO bill will be a cure-all for what ails the Virgin Islands," she said on Tuesday. "I am proposing a five-year pilot program for improving transparency and trust in our budgetary and fiscal practices. If Virgin Islanders approve of the process and system for determining our annual budget limits, then they can vote to make the office permanent through the referendum that the bill provides for after year four of the CFO's five year term."
DeJongh said the bill is the first proposal by a member of Congress to impose a federally created office to manage the financial affairs of a state or territory. It restricts the rights of voters and elected officials to address the territory's problems and instead puts those responsibilities in the hands of Congress, deJongh said.
"This is the most troubling aspect of the bill, because simply put, it is a step backwards. It is unfortunate that at a time when our Legislature is taking up the issue of advancing a Constitution for the Virgin Islands, our delegate is handing the reigns of our financial future over to Congress without even a voice from our people on the matter," deJongh said.
Unlike previous versions of the bill, the new legislation does not direct the CFO to assume the powers of the Office of Management and Budget with the authority to disapprove specific appropriations and items of spending. Instead, the CFO would only prepare and certify the territory's revenue levels each year.
A local committee would consider applicants for the job and submit the top three recommendations to the governor. The governor would select a CFO, and the nominee would have to be ratified by the V.I. Legislature.
The CFO's salary would be paid by the V.I. government, and the amount would be set at the level of the highest-paid commissioner.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.