Aug. 7, 2001 – Stating he could not support legislation that would negatively impact the Government Employees Retirement System, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has vetoed the two GERS bills that were on his desk.
One bill would have given early retirement benefits to certain hazardous duty workers of the Water and Power Authority, expanding the number of eligible employees to 316 from the present 58. The bill had been roundly criticized as fiscally unworkable by WAPA and GERS officials and by some senators.
The other measure would have granted the GERS board bonding authority and allowed it to unilaterally sell or transfer government property. It also would have increased the cap on senators' pensions to 75 percent of their most recent salaries from the current 65 percent.
Regarding the WAPA early retirement bill, Turnbull said in a letter to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, "The intent of this legislation is admirable, and the Legislature has seen fit to appropriate $1.9 million … to fund the mandate." However, he said, GERS has said the amount is inadequate, given actuarial calculations showing a current 6.63 percent deficit in pension contributions vs. payouts.
In a recent letter to Turnbull, Sen. Vargrave Richards said, "It is clear that GERS administrators as well as WAPA chief Thomas [executive director Joseph R. Thomas Jr.] agree that the added burden would 'bankrupt' the system and cause a chain reaction of rate increases."
Laurence Bryan. GERS administrator, and other GERS officials have claimed the legislation would lay the way for possible bankruptcy of the retirement system in years to come.
In his cover letter, Turnbull reminded Liburd that the Senate was apprised of the potential effects the WAPA legislation could have on the system in a July 11 Finance Committee hearing.
With regard to the second bill, Turnbull said the language giving the GERS board more power needs to be reconsidered. He said the bill was passed "without sufficient public hearing or notice to the affected employees, retirees or the administration's financial and economic team." He also noted that the American Association of Retired Persons and other civic groups have opposed the measure. "If we continue to overburden the Retirement System," Turnbull added, "we will find ourselves facing a possible insolvency."
A press release from Government House announcing the two vetoes was received by the Source at 10:38 p.m. Monday. The release did not state when the governor took the veto action.
The governor still has eight more bills which he must act on by midnight Tuesday or see them become law without his signature. The major one is his massive Fiscal Year 2001 supplemental budget appropriations bill, which the Senate saddled with dozens of amendments. One of those amendments would bring video lottery terminals to the territory, a move avidly opposed by St. Croix casino owners, prospective developers, some of the senators who voted for it and, most recently, Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II.
The others include a bill dramatically increasing penalties and fines for firearms violations, another granting the hospitals more autonomy, a measure creating an authority to issue bonds backed by the territory's portion of the national tobacco settlement funds, and two V.I. Housing Authority bills, one requiring the authority to send out quarterly available housing notices and the other repealing a law passed by the 23rd Legislature consolidating all the territory's housing programs.


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