Part-time Legislature? Lower pay for senators? If Puerto Rico can do it, why can't the V.I.?
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
I have been following the Popular Democratic Party in Puerto Rico's proposed measure to put the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a part-time status for the first time in nearly two decades, and I am wondering if that could be looked at here in the Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico had a part-time, January-to-June legislature until 1997, when it moved to a full-time body aimed at tackling the island's growing problems. They now would like to consider moving back to the previous part-time status.
It is important to point out that they have a bicameral legislature - two chambers - whereas the Virgin Islands has a unicameral legislature. Puerto Rico has a 27-member senate and a 51-member House of Representatives, whereas the Virgin Islands has 14 district senators and one at-large senator.
The population of Puerto Rico is about 4 million and the Virgin Islands is about 109,666.
The annual government budget for Puerto Rico ranges from $8.5 billion to $9 billion. The V.I. government's budget is $1.2 billion.
Puerto Rico lawmakers currently make nearly $74,000 a year on average; V.I. senators get $85,000 a year. It is unclear at this point how long the House of Representatives would meet, and what members would be paid under the proposed changes.
Those changes are being studied by a commission, and the incoming president of the body. In addition to being part-time members, lawmakers also plan to eliminate their food and transportation stipends and cut other costs by 30 percent.
They play to use the money they will save this way: $3 million to investigate at least 42,000 child abuse cases that were never resolved; $1 million to activate the National Guard to help fight crime; and $500,000 to buy new equipment for the island's Institute of Forensic Science.
The House majority is moving ahead with the plan, but the Senate has not yet agreed, Incoming Senate President Eduardo Bhatia, has promised to eliminate senators' food and travel stipends. He would like to have public hearings on the matter shortly.
Some legislators have concerns that the changes would create potential conflicts of interest with legislators' other jobs, and some worry that the changes might allow the executive branch to have an exclusive hold on the country's public agenda and thus upset the balance of power.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has called for legislative reform and is expected to submit a bill calling for both houses of the legislature to work part-time.
I would suggest that the V.I. public and V.I. lawmakers study these measures and see what can be gleaned, and if the other branches of government need some reform measures, too, then that should be looked into as well.
- Jason Budsan, St. Thomas