Sweeping bill including property tax rebate and Net gambling provisions gets Senate OK
Published: October 2, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - In the wee hours Tuesday morning, the 30th Legislature passed an omnibus bill comprising diverse elements that range from a six-month property tax rebate program to provisions that set out the framework for expanding and regulating Internet gambling in the territory.
Throughout a three-day legislative session that stretched past midnight into the morning of the fourth day, senators had been talking about an omnibus bill designed to help balance the budget.
Senators Craig Barshinger, Diane Capehart, Donald Cole, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Shawn-Michael Malone, Clarence Payne III, Sammuel Sanes, and Janette Millin Young voted yes. Senators Judi Buckley, Alicia Hansen, Terrence Nelson and Tregenza Roach voted no, and Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly was absent. The bill will now go to Government House for consideration.
Small power providers
One section of the bill adds to the definition of small power production facilities in the law, expanding it so that the V.I. Port Authority and the territory's hospitals are included.
The provision adds the definition of "Airport, Seaport and V.I. Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation small power provider" to the definitions in a section of V.I. Code on cogeneration and small power production.
The V.I. Government Hospitals and Health Facilities Corp. is a public benefit corporation of the government that was created to oversee the territory's hospitals, administered by a 15-seat board of directors commonly called the territorial hospital board.
The new definition in the bill involves facilities that produce energy solely through photovoltaic solar cells and limits production capacity for such facilities to 5 megawatts or less in each island district.
The measure is aimed at off-setting the energy needs and costs of the Port Authority and the territory's hospitals.
The bill contains some measures that directly impact the V.I. Water and Power Authority by affecting how the money from a 2012 increase to the territory's gasoline tax would be disbursed to WAPA and used by the utility.
In July 2012, the gasoline tax in the territory doubled, from 7 cents per gallon to 14 cents per gallon. Legislation that increased the tax also set up a government fund, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Generating and Infrastructure Fund, where the revenues from the extra 7 cents would be deposited. The law says the money in that fund can be used to purchase new generators for WAPA and to help with the issuance of bonds for WAPA.
The way the existing law is written, money is to be disbursed from the fund by the Finance Commissioner upon the authorization of WAPA.
The omnibus bill contains a provision that would strike that language, and insert language that has the Finance Commissioner disbursing the money in the fund to WAPA on a quarterly basis.
Also under the bill, WAPA would have to hold all those monies in a separate account to be used exclusively for the purposes designated in the law.
Another section of the bill would add to those purposes by allowing WAPA to use the tax money for financing the conversion of its existing power-generating units to operate on fuel oil, liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas.
Other provisions in the omnibus bill amend the Virgin Islands Internet Gaming and Internet Gambling Act, which is part of the V.I. Casino and Resort Control Act of 1995.
"It sets up a framework for expanding and regulating internet gambling in the Virgin Islands," Barshinger said.
The bill's provisions would repeal existing sections in the law that grant a master service provider franchise to two named entities.
It also contains measures that provide for the licensure by the Casino Control Commission of master service providers, which are entities that operate approved internet gambling.
The bill would allow the commission to issue two master service provider licenses, one in each island district, and enter into agreements with each provider.
Under that agreement, the master service provider would have the exclusive right to provide services and license approved applicants to conduct approved internet gambling in the territory.
The bill also requires the commission, within 30 days of enactment, to promulgate regulations for licensure and renewal of master service providers, the contents of the master service agreements, and procedures necessary to carry out the law.
Another provision in the bill is aimed at expanding enforcement of the hotel tax, particularly for those in the villa rental industry.
The bill requires the Internal Revenue director to assign two employees to investigate and collect room taxes from hotels and innkeepers of homes that are "kept, used, maintained, rented, leased, advertised or held out to the public to be a place where sleeping accommodations are furnished by the day, week, month or season, for pay."
It also provides penalties for hotel and innkeepers who willfully refuse to comply with the room tax law or submit fraudulent reports to the Internal Revenue Bureau. The penalties include a $10,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 30 days.
Property Tax rebates
Part of the bill deals with setting up a 180-day property tax rebate program. During the program, which would start 30 days after enactment, interest and tax obligations would be reduced in this way:
- Tax bills for years 1998 and before would have to be paid first, within 45 days of the start of the program. When paid in full, those taxes would be reduced by 60 percent.
- Tax bills for 1999 through 2003 would then have to be paid, no later than 90 days after the start of the program. When paid in full, the bills would be reduced by 40 percent.
- Tax bills for 2004 through 2009 would then have to be paid no later than 120 days after the start of the program. When paid in full, the bills would be discounted by 25 percent.
Coral Bay Park
Another part of the bill amends an existing law that provided a $1 million annual appropriation for four fiscal years for the purchase of 170 acres in Estate Carolina on St. John for the Coral Bay Park.
The bill provides for a phased purchase of the property and authorizes additional capital improvements and uses for the property, including the construction by the Waste Management Authority of a convenience center for recycling trash, preserving ruins on the property, and establishing the Coral Bay Parcel 7 Remainder Marsh Land Trust.
The bill also authorizes Property and Procurement to purchase the property in phases as funds are available, but requires the agency to use $1 million to purchase at least 20 contiguous acres in a flatter section of the property, including the Carolina plantation ruins and 300 feet of road frontage on King's Hill Road, to accommodate the convenience center.
Other parts of the omnibus bill would:
- Remove the requirement for Legislative approval from the process of awarding and reprogramming Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill would allow the heads of government departments and agencies to do it.
- Appropriate $150,000 from the General Fund to the V.I. Education Department's Division of Cultural Education for cultural and historical activities.
- Increase the size of the Centennial Commission of the Virgin Islands - a group that is to formulate plans for the 100th anniversary of Transfer Day - from 10 members to 17.
- Remove the requirement in the law for the Waste Management Authority to inspect septic systems.
- Cap damages in personal injury, death and property loss judgments against the Waste Management Authority at $75,000, unless the injury, loss of property or death is caused by an employee's gross negligence while performing his duties.
- Cap damages in personal injury, death and property loss judgments against the Port Authority at $75,000, unless the injury, loss of property or death is caused by an employee's gross negligence while performing his duties.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.