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.