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.”
“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.
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.