Senate rolls out austerity measures
Published: October 30, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The business director of the V.I. Legislature on Monday implemented new austerity measures on senators to help cope with a tighter Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
In a memorandum to all senators and central staff divisions, Ava Penn, the acting director of the Legislature's Business and Financial Management division, described new restrictions on senators' travel expenses.
Penn declined to discuss the new measures in detail, but she indicated that recent public scrutiny of senators' travel expenses may help make the announcement more palatable to senators.
"When you guys are in here it makes it easier," Penn told a Daily News reporter.
Under the new Business Office rules, Wednesday will be the last day for senators' offices to request and receive a weekly allotment of 30 gallons in gas coupons until further notice, the memo states. The business office already has restricted the issuance of gas coupons to only those vehicles in the Legislature's transportation division and on a limited basis.
"Senators will now be responsible for supplying gas at their own expense and without reimbursement, for any legislative vehicle utilized by them or their office," Penn wrote.
The memo also restricts air travel between St. Thomas and St. Croix to only Seaborne Airlines and states travel will only be authorized for scheduled legislative meetings.
Lastly the memo states that hotel stays will only be approved for days on which there are scheduled legislative meetings that "warrant the need for a hotel stay."
"These and other forthcoming measures are necessary in order for the Legislature to stay within its financial means," Penn wrote.
A second memo also issued Monday to individual senators discusses the termination of Legislature-provided cell phone service. The memo states the Legislature's account with AT&T will be closed effective Nov. 30. Penn said about nine senators currently have cell phone accounts bankrolled by taxpayers.
Senators now have the option of either cancelling the service or notifying the business office by Nov. 9 that they intend to continue the service at their own expense.
The Daily News requested a series of public documents last December relating to the travel expenses and cash advances for senators in the 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th Legislatures.
Last week, V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. signed a stipulation agreement that the Legislature would immediately make the documents available to the newspaper or face penalties imposed by the court.
The records detail expenses for senators and their staff members, including receipts for restaurants, dry cleaning, rental cars, taxis, hotels, airline tickets and other expenditures.
The Legislature set its Fiscal Year 2013 budget ceiling at $17.8 million compared with $19.8 million last fiscal year.
Whether the new restrictions stay in place beyond the 29th Legislature remains to be seen. Under the current Legislature's rules, Penn's position is appointed by the Senate President.
The entire V.I. Legislature is up for election one week from today.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.