Senators OK borrowing $130 million
Published: August 23, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Before breaking in anticipation of Tropical Storm Isaac on Wednesday, lawmakers reworked a previous Senate approval for the V.I. government to borrow money to pay for a slew of government expenses to add another $10 million for a backlog of unpaid worker compensation claims.
However, the Senate did not address two other government borrowing bills the governor had submitted seeking an additional $62.5 million.
The legislature in January approved $120 million in borrowing through the V.I. Public Finance Authority. The amount was to be split evenly between the Fiscal Year 2012 and Fiscal Year 2013 budgets.
Under the bill passed Wednesday, which includes approval for borrowing the additional $10 million, the $130 million would be split up as follows:
- $30 million for general operating expenses for Fiscal Year 2012.
- $35 million for general operating expenses for Fiscal Year 2013.
- $25 million for general operating expenses for Fiscal Years 2014.
- $15 million for the government's bills to the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
- $15 million for tax refunds.
- $10 million for workers' compensation claims.
V.I. Finance Commissioner and Executive Director of the V.I. Public Finance Authority Angel Dawson Jr. told senators the workers' compensation funds were "urgently needed."
V.I. Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. said the territory's worker compensation program is in "dire straits."
"We are at the point where we have had to make difficult decisions affecting the injured workers and the service providers," Bryan said.
The agency has stopped sending injured workers off island for treatment except for emergencies, and even then, some off-island providers know the agency's financial state and refuse to accept patients without a large down payment, according to Bryan. Other providers have been placed on a payment schedule that the agency has failed to honor, leading some providers to cut off service to worker compensation claimants, he said.
The workers' compensation program is more than $20 million in arrears, according to Bryan.
"As medical costs continue to escalate, this fund has been stretched far beyond its capacity," he said.
During a brief questioning window, the senators asked for assurances that the $10 million would be used for its stated purpose before voting 11-2 in favor of the bill. Sen. Terrence Nelson and Sen. Neville James voted against the measure; Sen. Craig Barshinger and Sen. Alvin Williams Jr. were absent.
In total, the Public Finance Authority last week approved $157.5 million in borrowing, which includes the $130 million authorized by the Legislature on Wednesday. The balance would come from a separate bill proposed by the governor adding $20.5 million for a variety of capital projects and $7 million for a new police fleet.
A third bill proposed by deJongh would authorize $35 million in borrowing from a different funding stream for energy conservation projects at public schools.
The Senate did not consider either of those two bills Wednesday, nor did it have concrete plans to reconvene after breaking at 2:20 p.m. Senate President Ronald Russell said finishing the session would depend on the storm.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.V.I. government agencies, including the territory's hospitals, owe the V.I. Water and Power Authority $16.2 million in balances that are more than 30 days old, including $3.6 million in balances that are more than a year old, according to figures provided Wednesday to the V.I. Legislature. The figures were current as of July 31.
St. Croix electricity
Hospital Board $5.754 million
Housing Finance Authority $97,390
University of the Virgin Islands $57,711
St. Croix water
Hospital Board $1.359 million
Housing Finance Authority $235,567
Public TV System $16,394 St. Thomas electricity
Hospital Board $462,029
Housing Finance Authority $7,291
Housing Authority $2,320
Port Authority $1,372
Superior Court $1,227
Public TV System $649
St. Thomas water
Hospital Board $208,003
Housing Finance Authority $33,596
Executive branch water and power (both islands)
Electricity: $6.724 million
Water: $1.213 million