Category: Finance

GOVERNOR’S FINANCIAL TEAM SHARES FY 2018 BUDGET

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Overview and Revenue Projections from the Governor’s Financial Team.

“Today starts a two-month process that will end on September 31st. Mark-ups will follow and by the first week of October, we should have a FY 2018 Budget passed,” said Sen. Vialet. “This fiscal year is more challenging than previous ones because there is no access to working capitol and for the first time we are trying to spend what we generated.”

Similarly, Nellon Bowry, Director of the Office of Management and Budget stated that the Territory’s weak fiscal condition has taken place center stage for FY 2018. However, there is still hope. “Despite the challenges, the expansionary fiscal and economic policy program, consisting of tax increases and a large-scale infrastructure spending and other private sector investments, should support the economy,” said Director Bowry.

The FY 2018 budget breakdown for the Executive Branch is as follows: $373.2 million for personnel services, $15.7 million for supplies, $22.2 million for utilities, $1.4 million in routine capital additions, $162.6 million for contributions from semi-autonomous agencies, boards and commissions, $138.1 million for other services and charges, $656.5 million is allocated to Executive Branch and other agencies. The overall General Fund budget request is $713 million. This is $72.1 million less than the original FY 2017 appropriation budget. This also does not include the $30.6 million for tax refunds and the $90.3 million for long-term debt service; according to Director Bowry.

“How did the long-term debt service increase?” inquired Sen. Vialet. In response, Valdamier Collens, Commissioner of the Department of Finance said, “The $20 million increase is a result of an outstanding balance from a line of credit. By FY 2018 it will term out and then we can begin to pay it back.”

Separately, Sen. Jenelle Sarauw asked, “How much funds were generated from Limetree Bay?” Commissioner Collens stated that $13-$14 million was budgeted in FY 2017. “Based on the barrels of capacity, we anticipate it will increase anywhere from 20-30 million. Once this happens revenues will increase to $15 -$17 million per annum,” added Commissioner Collens.

Sen. Neville James said, “The Limetree Bay impact is a bit understated.” He asked, “Are you conceding that despite revenue projections, we will not be able to access the capitol market by FY 2018?” Director Bowry said, “We are conceding that the we will not have access to debt financing until FY 2018.” Commissioner Collens said, “The reality is that the Virgin Islands has no access to capital. Therefore, the budget is based upon our confines.”

“Even if we are able to access the financial market, it is not wise to do so,” said Sen. Vialet. “We should not go to the market without having a significant increase in revenues.”

Part of the revenue collection initiatives include collecting $22 million of current tax obligations and $400 million of delinquent taxes.

“Can you give me a breakdown of the $400 million?” inquired Sen. Sammuel Sanes. Director Bowry stated that an estimate of $100 million will come from the collection of property taxes. The balance is a combination of taxes, gross receipt taxes and income taxes. However, he does not have the exact breakdown.

Separately, Director Bowry stated that as a result of the FY 2018 Budget, there will be a change in the employee health insurance cost. “Currently, there is a 65% employer versus 35% employees. However, cost will be redistributed to 60% employer versus 40% employee split for active employees, 50% split for retirees under age 65 and 100% contribution by retirees over the age of 65 who are eligible for Medicare,” said Director Bowry.

Lawmakers shared their concerns for the rising costs of health insurance. “Medicare does not cover the full costs for medical and dental,” said Sen. Sanes. “These are veterans and retirees who are expected to dip into their pockets after thirty years of service.”

Sen. Marvin Blyden said, “The fiscal crisis is forcing us to be more creative in generating revenues. FY 2018 will be difficult moving forward. It is impacting the health care significantly. This will be a financial burden on the elderly. It will cause chaos in the community.”

The next Committee on Finance meeting as it pertains to the FY 2018 Budget, will take place on July 27 at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix.

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SENATORS CONSIDERS BILL TO IMPROVE CAPITOL PROJECTS FOR THE V.I. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ST. THOMAS DISTRICT

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ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to consider several measures that were proposed by Sen. Myron Jackson at the request of Governor Kenneth Mapp, including Bill No. 32-0089 as it relates to the reprogramming of a portion of the proceeds from the Matching Funds to the V.I. Department of Education (VIDE) to finance critical maintenance needs.

 

“VIDE is requesting the re-appropriation for the remaining Bond Funding from previously completed Capital Improvement Projects in the sum of $732,136,000,” said Commissioner of Education Sharon McCollum.

 

The projects include renovations of an existing unoccupied building for the consolidation of the Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School and Dober Elementary School which totals $643,000, establishing a Performing Arts Center and renovating the St. Thomas Headquarters restrooms and employee lounge which totals $89,136, added Commissioner McCollum.

 

Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “I noticed that there are no projects or monies that will be re-appropriated to schools on St. Croix.” He asked, “Is there a Plan B?” Commissioner McCollum said, “There is a Plan B. We have over $2 million to repair the track at Central High School. There is also a considerable amount of work to be done at the Educational Complex. The remainder of the funds will be used towards additional projects on St. Croix.”

 

Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “Are renovating the restrooms at the St. Thomas Headquarters a priority?” Commissioner McCollum said, “It is one of many priorities that DOE is facing. We will develop a proposal to tackle renovations and repairs for the St. Croix School District.”

 

“Although, the Performing Arts Center and the restroom upgrades to the St. Thomas Headquarters are important, there needs to be additional revenues to establish a Trade Zone,” said Sen. Marvin Blyden. “It is place where students will be able to learn a trade and become certified upon graduating from High School. The Trade Zone will keep youngsters out of trouble while focusing on developing a trade.”

 

Separately, lawmakers also considered Bill No. 32-0087. The measure seeks to authorize the Department of Property and Procurement to purchase certain real property on behalf of the people the completion of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium on the Island of St. Croix.

 

Act 7663 authorized $17.5 million, Act 7778 authorized $1,185,413 and Act 7903 appropriated $3,696,750 to be used towards financing various aspects of the costs associated with the Paul E. Joseph Stadium; according to information on the Post Audit Report.

 

Sen. Vialet asked, “Can you give me a precise balance of the funds remaining from Act 7778, Act 7903 and Act 7663?” Gustav James, Commissioner of Public Works stated that he does not have that information with him today.

 

“What is the estimated cost to complete the Paul E. Joseph Stadium?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner James stated that $17 million is needed to complete the projects associated everything that was shown on the map that was presented during the meeting.

 

“Thus far, out of the $17 million, how much was expended?” inquired Sen. Vialet. Commissioner James stated that only $3 million was spent. Sen. Vialet asked, “Are the authorized and appropriated funds enough to complete the Paul E. Joseph Stadium?” Commissioner James said, “No, the monies can only complete different phases of the project but it is not enough to finish it entirely.”

 

“We have to seriously consider how monies are being spent in the government. How can we pass a bill without all the financial information present? Even if the measure is approved, the Paul E Joseph Stadium will still not be completed,” said Sen. Vialet.”

 

Ultimately, policymakers held in committee the following: Bill No. 32-0087, Bill No. 32-0089, Bill No. 32-0090, Bills No. 32-0091, Bill No. 32-0094.

 

However, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0088 – An Act to provide for the reprogramming of funds appropriated from the Community Facilities Trust Account authorized under Act No. 7012 for certain capital projects through the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation. It will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

 

 

 

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COMMITTEE ON FINANCE CONSIDERS REAL PROPERTY TAX BILL AND PROPERTY & PROCUREMENT LEASE AGREEMENT

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ST. JOHN- Members of the Committee on Finance met on Tuesday at the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room. Chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the meeting was held to consider a Bill amending Title 33 VIC and a Leasing Agreement between the Department of Property and Procurement and Island Green Building Association, Inc.

Bill No. 32-0030, proposed by Sen. Janette Millin-Young, seeks to amend Title 33 VIC, section 2404, by including three exceptions when assessing the fair market value of real property; by including a 60 day time-period within which the Lieutenant Governor must complete a reassessment and add a sentence providing that if the Lt. Governor fails to comply with the provisions of subsection (d), the taxpayer is considered to have won the appeal and the real property taxes based upon the prior assessed value of the property; adds subsection (e), which sets real property valuation maximum for residents who are eligible for the homestead exemption at 1% percent if three specific conditions are met; adds a subsection (f) that sets a value for the real property arm’s length, open market transaction; adds a subsection (g) that sets the requirements for a mass appraisal and adds a subsection (h) defining terms used in the section.

“Something is wrong with the property taxes in Love City. Our task today is not to point fingers, it is time to break the cycle of stress and the dispossession of our people,” stated Sen. Millin-Young.

Dolace McClean, Legal Counsel for the Property Tax Division of the Office of the Lt. Governor’s Office, accompanied by Tax Assessor Ira Mills, provided their testimonies stating that they are in favor of any intent to have a uniform and equitable tax system for property taxes, if the system does not prove detrimental to other taxpayers.

Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of the Property & Printing Divisions of the Dept. of Property and Procurement, spoke in support of the Leasing Agreement during his testimony between Island Green Building Association, Inc. and the Government of the Virgin Islands (Dept. of Property and Procurement.) The association intends to lease a portion of Parcel 6-A Estate Susannaberg, No. 17A Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, approximately 19,704 square feet, for a period of 20 years.

The Lessee will develop and implement sustainability solutions for the handling of household waste, sewage, building materials and unwanted items.

The Sustainable Living Center will serve as an asset to the community of St. John, visitors and businesses. Upon approval and completion, the Center will include an expanded recycling/upcycling center for glass/plastics, composting area, community center and library. Harith Wickrema, President of Island Green Building Association, Inc., claims that the Center will create enough energy that the excess will be sent to the grid for public use.

The meeting concluded with Bill No. 32-0002, Bill No. 32-0010 and Bill No. 32-0030, passing favorably with all committee members voting affirmatively. They will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The leasing agreement between the Dept. of Property and Procurement will be held in the Finance Committee pending documentation.

Chairman Vialet concluded by thanking the testifiers and staff for their support and patience during the meeting.

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FINANCE COMMITTEE VOTES FAVORABLY FOR SIN TAX MEASURES

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The Committee on Finance, Chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, met to receive testimony on and reconsider Bill Nos. 32-0005 and 32-0007 – both bills regarding the Government’s Five-Year Financial Plan – following an early morning protest from members of the private sector who oppose the measures.

Testimonies given by private citizens and the Governor’s financial team conveyed the serious implications if the territory continues to plunge further into fiscal collapse. “At this point, a series of bad decisions were made, without thinking about the future generations,” stated Sen. Vialet.

Bill No. 32-0005, proposed by Sen. Neville James, Sen. Kurt Vialet, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Sen. Myron D. Jackson, was passed favorably 5 to 2. Voting in favor were Sens. James, O’Reilly, Vialet, Brian A. Smith, and Marvin A. Blyden. The Bill seeks to amend and enhance revenues for the Territory by implementing excise taxes on tobacco products, alcohol beverages and on sugar carbonated beverages, and the establishment of a new timeshare fee. The Virgin Islands Code currently includes a timeshare occupancy tax of 10.5%.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (“BIR”) will assess on and collect from timeshare owners the existing hotel room occupancy tax of 12.5%. Accordingly, Title II of the bill would repeal the timeshare occupancy tax. In addition, the Act establishes a new timeshare fee, the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee, in the amount of $25.00 per day of occupancy of any timeshare in the Virgin Islands.

The measure also authorizes revenues generated from the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee to be allocated as follows: 25% to the Virgin Islands Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, 50% to the General Fund and 25% to the Hospitals. Section 3 significantly amends Title 33, chapter 3, section 42, which establishes the rates and base for certain excise taxes on imported goods. As currently in effect, the statute imposes very low tax rates on most liquor and tobacco products. Imported beers, for example, are taxed at a rate of $2.08 (for foreign beers) or $1.55 (for U.S. beers) per case or each 24 bottles Whiskies and other liquors are generally taxed at a rate of just $6.00 per case.

The purposed increases in the excise tax rates on liquor and tobacco will provide the benefits of both increasing revenue and supporting public health. Products on which the 20 excise tax rates will include:

Foreign and U.S. beers, from $2.08 and $1.55 per case, respectively, to $6.08 and $5.00; and Cigarettes, from 45% to 45% plus $8.00 per cartoon; and Carbonated beverages, from 3% plus $0.36 per case plus $0.005 per fluid ounce (except those in reusable canisters, which will now be taxed at 4%); For most spirits and liqueurs from $6.00 per case (or $2.50 per wine gallon, if greater) to 10% of value; and for wines and brandies, from $2.04 per case (or $0.85 per wine gallon, if greater) to 10% of value. Cumulatively, the proposed excise tax rate increases, are projected to generate approximately $12.2 million in new revenues annually. Chairman Vialet added that these items in which the taxes are proposed, are not necessities or essential for our consumption.

Bill No. 32-0007, proposed by Sen. Myron D. Jackson and Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, was passed favorably 5 to 2. Voting in favor were Sens. O’Reilly, Jackson, Vialet, Blyden and Smith. This Bill seeks to amend by adding the following language at the end: ‘Commercial real property includes buildings with residences of 5 or more units,’ and Subsection 2301 is amended to include a new subsection to read: ‘In no event, may the application of exemptions and credits reduce the amount of tax due for any real property to an amount less than $360.’ “Times have changed, so there’s no way we can sit here, do nothing, and believe we will be able to move forward and solve our problems.” said Chairman Vialet.

The Bills were both passed favorably to the Committee on Rules & Judiciary for further consideration.

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LAWMAKERS CONSIDER BILL TO REQUIRE CREDIT UNIONS IN THE TERRITORY TO BE FEDERALLY CHARTERED

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dsc_3831ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Clifford Graham, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony on several bills including Bill No. 31-0369; as it relates to the establishment of credit unions and for their oversight.
Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Division Director for the Division of Banking and Insurance said, “Our safest course of action is to require all credit unions be federally chartered and come within preview of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).”
Some of the responsibilities of the NCUA are the issuance of interpretative rulings, financial performance reports, legal opinion letters, strict rules and regulations, reviews every three years, and the ability to examine chartered credit unions and issue Administrative Orders when it finds that a credit union or persons affiliated with credit union is in violation of the law, according to Director Brady.
“In your testimony, you mentioned the annual oversight visits of the credit unions by external auditors,” said Sen. Graham, Sponsor of the Bill. “How often are the audits conducted?” he asked. In response, Director Brady said, “The audits are conducted once a year by external and federal auditors. Upon completion, the reports are sent to NCUA for further review.”
Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “NCUA regulation comes with a cost.” He asked, “What costs are affiliated with NCUA?” Brady stated that there are fees that must be paid to NCUA. The formula is based on the risk associated with a particular credit union. The financial portfolio and losses will determine the cost per credit union.
Chief Executive Officer Keisha Prince, NCRM, NCBSO added, “Although, NCUA can be difficult because it comes with a cost. However, their oversight ensures sounds management of credit unions. NCUA performs regulatory services and evaluate credit unions based on capital adequacy, management responsibilities, earnings, liquidity and market sensitivity.”
Sen. Marvin Blyden said, “I support this legislation because it is gives the Territory an upgrade by raising the standards of the credit unions. More importantly, it provides financial protection to the people of the Virgin Islands.
Similarly, Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “This is one of those bills that makes plain sense.” He asked, “Were the victims of Her Majesty Credit Union reimbursed for their loss?” Director Brady said, “If Her Majesty Credit Union had been a legitimate operation and established under a federal charter through NCUA, then its accounts would have been insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, therefore, consumer interests would have been protected.”

Sen. Positive Nelson said, “Updating our laws to keep us in alignment is a very good thing. However, my main issue is that credit unions should have never been authorized by the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs because jurisdiction should be under the Division of Banking. If this was the case, regulation of Her Majesty Credit Union would not have slipped through the cracks.”
Ultimately, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 31-0369.
The following measures were also considered and approved:
– Bill No. 31-0443 – An Act amending Title 22 Virgin Islands Code adding Chapter 20 to enact “The Virgin Islands Risk-Based Capital for Insurers Act”
– Bill No. 31-0444 – An Act repealing Title 22 Virgin Islands Code Section 1251(a) and adding Chapter 14 entitled “The Virgin Islands Insurance Holding Company System Regulatory Act” to meet the accreditation standards established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and update the insurance laws of the Territory placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions, and providing greater and more effective protection for the policyholders of the Territory

– Bill No. 31-0445 – An Act repealing and re-enacting Title 22 Virgin Islands Code chapter 31 to enact the “Virgin Islands Producer and Adjuster Licensing Act”
– Bill No. 31-0446 -An Act amending Title 22 Virgin Islands Code adding Chapter 60 to enact “The Virgin Islands Third Party Administrators Act”, updating the insurance laws of the Territory to reflect the licensing requirements contained in the model laws of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners
– Bill No. 31-0398- An Act repealing title 33, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 12, section 525 relating to the rate of duty on articles shipped from within the U.S. Customs Zone.
– Bill No. 31-0442 -An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code Title 3, 9, and 22 to update the Insurance Laws of the Territory and to adopt the Core Standards and Model Laws and Regulations as established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”) for purposes of obtaining accreditation with the NAIC, placing the Territory on par with other United States jurisdictions and attaining greater and more effective protection for the policyholders of the Territory
All bills approved will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further
consideration.
Senators present are Clifford Graham, Novelle Francis, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Sammuel Sanes, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach, Nereida O’Reilly and Kurt Vialet.
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COMMITTEE HOLDS BILL FOR JUDICIARY RETIREMENT BENEFITS PROGRAM

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ST.THOMAS—The Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Clifford F. Graham, met Wednesday at the
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, where they held a measure regarding the retirement benefit program for
members of the Judiciary and for other related purposes.
Bill No. 31-0244, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens, repeals a section of the code (770l) and
reintroduces an amended version that clarifies ambiguities relative to annuities, vesting periods, and
removes Government Employees Retirement System’s authority over deferred compensation. Legislators
moved to hold the measure. It was so ordered without objection.
“The law provides that their compensation, to include their pension benefits, are not to be changed midstream
of their term,”explained Sen. Gittens. “We have been seeing some changes and this bill seeks to
clarify what is happening. We need to realize that these individuals who serve as judicial officers are
people who we call upon to be fair and just in their decision making and it is only right for us to ensure
that the fair and just decision making occurs for all aspects,” he said.
Sen. Graham asked officials to explain the effect of increasing the cost of insurance.
“If the cost of insurance for members of the Government of the Virgin Islands increases, you are saying
that that’s in violation of the law with respect to judge’s salary, he asked.
Robert Molloy, who serves as a Judge of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, clarified that in other
jurisdictions with similar legislation, “you cannot reduce the take home compensation of a judicial
officer”.
Other lawmakers weighed in.
“What we’re discussing is an unfunded liability,” said Sen. Vialet. “I think we’re going to have to make
the determination today as to whether or not, once again, the Legislature is going to enter into [another]
unfunded liability and the system at a later point, will point out that the mandate was unfunded,” he said.
Members of the judiciary present spoke in favor of the measure and provided some recommendations for
areas in the proposed amendments to tighten the language, removing any residual ambiguity.
“Although one of the core purposes of Bill No. 31-0244 is to eliminate GERS’ ability to set contribution
rates for members of the Judiciary,” said Hon. Rhys S. Hodge, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the
Virgin Islands “reference to retirement contribution payments from the employer could be interpreted to
allow GERS to require such a payment.”
“This not only undercuts the purpose of Bill No.31-0244, but poses serious constitutional questions as to
its legality if applied retroactively to the current members of Tier I,” he said.
Changing the language to reflect a contribution rate change from 15% to 11% for contributions paid by
Tier I members would resolve that conflict, Justice Hodge added.

Austin L. Nibbs, Administrator at GERS also weighed in.
“We are extremely concerned that this piece of legislation, which we term as ‘Special Interest Legislation’
is being offered at time when there is an ongoing appeal hearing related to the same issues before the
Board with a sitting member of the Judiciary,” he said.
Others present disagreed with Nibbs however, pointing out that the legislation was presented before the
appeal hearing began. Senators also added that they expected to hear more than the generic response of
insolvency by 2023.
“We just cannot continue to set rates based on a particular argument and then knowing that it’s going to
come back to haunt the Government of the Virgin Islands. All of those previous [pieces of] legislation is
what destroyed the Government Employees Retirement System,” Vialet said.
The committee also held Bill No. 31-0459 relating to the distribution of the proceeds of taxes collected
and deposited into the Virgin Islands Sin Taxing Revolving Fund and Bill No. 31-0441, establishing the
office of the public surveyor.

Committee Chair, Sen. Clifford F. Graham and members, Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Positive T.A.
Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach and Kurt A. Vialet, were present. Non-committee members Senators Kenneth
L. Gittens and Novelle E. Francis Jr., were also present.

 

Contact: Saida Harrigan
sharrigan@legvi.org

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SENATORS CONSIDERS A BILL THAT SECURES A BALANCED BUDGET FOR FY 2017

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the 31st Legislature, led by Sen. Neville James, convened in the third day of Legislative Session at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to vote on several measures including Bill No. 31-0447 to authorize the issuance of bonds to achieve a balanced budget for the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget.

“Today this institution has to determine the measure that will affect the budget for FY 2017. This includes passing a balanced budget that will affect all branches of the Government of the Virgin Islands,” said Sen. James. “If the budget is not passed, lawmakers will be dealing with an unbalanced budget and that is not good.”

The intent of Bill No. 31-0047 is to authorize the issuance of the bonds, notes or other evidences of indebtedness, the “Series 2016 Bonds,” of the Government of the Virgin Islands and/or V.I. Public Finance Authority to provide funds to finance all or a portion of certain capital projects and operating expenses of the Government in the amount not to exceed $292,000,000.

“The majority of the government operational expenses are from Personnel and Fringe Benefits; which makes up 80%-85% of the overall budget. If we have cutbacks of $112 million, then bodies will be sent home.” said Sen. Clifford Graham. He continued, “This means that 8% of the government employees will be unemployed and there will be less money circulating in our economy.  We are presented with the option of making cuts of $112 million that will hurt the economy or borrowing $292 million to save our economy.”

Sen. James said, “I am in support of borrowing the monies so that we can have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2017. I don’t believe that anyone likes to borrow. However, we will all like to have the capacity to borrow. It is fortunate that the government has the ability to access this capitol.”

“I am not a fan of borrowing $292,000,000 for working capital. However, this money is needed in order to pass a balanced budget,” said Sen. Almando “Rocky” Liburd. “My only concern is that this bill should be amended to include the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS). If that system fail, then the economy will fail too.”

Ultimately, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 31-0447 as amended. Separately, lawmakers voted to override Governor Kenneth Mapp’s veto of Bill No. 31-0005-An Act providing for a Virgin Islands comprehensive violence and public health study.

Sponsor of the Bill Sen. Janette Millin Young said, “One of the major concerns that the governor had was the lack of funding for this bill. However, after several meetings with the Commissioner of Health, it is determined that the monies can come from the Crisis Intervention Fund. I have placed a drafting request for the new funding source.”

Additionally, senators voted and approved the following bills:

    • Bill No. 31-0448- An Act appropriating the sum of $3,500,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Public Finance Authority for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017.
    • Bill No. 31-0417- An Act appropriations from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for the fiscal year October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017.
    • Bill No. 31-0439- An Act providing appropriations for operating expenses of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands, the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, the Judicial Council and the Office of the Territorial Public Defender.
    • Bill No. 31-0467- An Act authorizing the issuance of bonds, notes or other evidence of indebtedness of the Government of Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority to provide funds to finance the costs required in connection with the operation, maintenance and reduction of solid waste at the Anguilla Landfill and Bovoni Landfill. Including, but not limited to, such costs mandated under the Anguilla Consent Decree and Bovoni Consent Decree for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 (“the 2016 Landfills Project”), in an aggregate principal amount of up to $30 million, and the cost of any necessary reserves relating to, and the costs of issuance of, the Series Matching Fund Revenue Bonds; and the Government and Authority to execute certain agreements and pledge the Matching Fund Reserves, and issue limited special obligation notes to secure payments of all or a portion of the Series 2016 Matching Fund Revenue Bonds, and other related purposes.
    • Bill No. 31-0469- An Act amending 27, V.I.C., 7(b) relating to licensure of physicians, expanding the conditions under which the V.I. Board Medical Examiners may issue a temporary license to physicians, striking 27, V.I.C. 38c (a), and making a technical amendment.
    • Bill No. 31-0471- An Act delaying the implementation of tipping fees for solid waste disposal until January 1, 2016.
    • Bill No. 31-0403- An Act making appropriations for the operation of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the fiscal year October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017.

All bills approved will be forwarded to the governor for further consideration.

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SENATE APPROVES BUDGET BILLS AND DISCUSSES $430M BOND MEASURE

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ST.THOMAS—Members of the 31st Legislature rose out of recess Wednesday evening at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, and reconvened the Session where they approved 28 budget bills that were previously vetted; 25 were unanimously approved.

“It’s important that we all support these measures,” said Sen. Kurt A. Vialet. “It is going to provide the necessary funding for the government of the Virgin Islands.”

“We tried to make the point that we will be able to sustain the raises, that we’ll be able to keep people on the payroll and that we’ll be able to fill vacant positions, especially for those entities that provide monies to the government of the Virgin Islands,” he said.

“It would actually be more costly to us if we lose people from the government payroll, said Senate President James, in agreement. “In effect, what we’re doing is buying time.”

Sen. Jean A. Forde spoke to accountability and efficiency in government. “We cannot continue to do business as usual, “ he said. “We are in fact in a very critical situation. “We have got to make sure that the responsibility for government is of course to provide services for our people,” he said. “The agencies and departments which have that task before them, they have got to be equipped.”

Earlier that evening, during a Committee of the Whole meeting, lawmakers exhausted a discussion regarding Bill No. 31-0447 which, if approved, would authorize the issuance of bonds of approximately $430 million.

“Currently our situation is such that we have a $170 million deficit [that] we’re looking at for the next five years, if we do nothing,” said Sen. James.

Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens noted that the government’s downgraded rating by Moody’s Investors Service, to ‘BBB’ was done despite having an excellent payment history.

“We’ve never defaulted in our bond obligation,” he said. Valdamier Collens, Commissioner of the Department of Finance, also weighed in.

“The discussion today,” said Collens, “was the hope of signaling that we want to take a course of better fiscal stability and increasing economic growth throughout this territory. We are not Puerto Rico. We are completely different from Puerto Rico, but the truth is, if we don’t make the right decisions and if we don’t have a plan, we might not be too far off.” Nellon Bowry, Director of the Office of Management and Budget explained that it’s right and expected for lawmakers to question officials when they come to discuss borrowing, “it’s important to understand however, that borrowing is not necessarily bad,” he said. “It’s not necessarily something to avoid. It’s something you have to manage.”

Collens concurred.

“Debt is not bad,” he said. “Most state and local governments across the united States and other countries utilize debt. “We intend to manage the debt that we’re looking for much better than we have before because we do have  a plan.”

Bill No. 31-0447, will be considered when legislators resume the Legislative Session Thursday. Budget bills, including Bill Nos. 31-0404 through Bill No. 31-0416 and Bill No3. 31-0418 through 31-0423 were unanimously approved. Also unanimously approved were Bill Nos. 31-0425, 31-0427, 31-0428,31-0429, 31-0431 and 31-0438.

Also approved:

Bill No. 31-0424 (14 yes, 1 no: Nelson)

Bill No. 31-0426 (14 yes, 1 no: Nelson)

Bill No. 31-0430 (13 yes, 2 no: Nelson, Millin Young)

All members were present.

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