Sept. 21, 2001 – The Senate Finance Committee worked until 2 a.m. Friday to finish up its work on the government's Fiscal Year 2002 budget, coming in at $550.9 million, virtually identical to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposed $551 million, although differing in specifics.
Amid numerous reductions in the administration's proposed appropriations, the University of the Virgin Islands was awarded $1.8 million more than the governor requested.
The measures approved are scheduled to be considered by the Rules Committee on Saturday. The Rules chair, Sen. Carlton Dowe, said Friday that the committee would meet on St. Croix, although earlier announcements had said it would convene on St. Thomas.
There was not much Finance Committee debate on the more than 20 bills processed Thursday. The Senate majority, which has five of the seven Finance Committee seats, had worked with other committee members fine-tuning the bills for the last two months. The unaligned committee member, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, voted with the committee on most of the measures, as did the minority member, Sen. Douglas Canton, who missed Thursday morning's portion of the session.
The committee approved General Fund expenditures including:
– $479,756,528 for executive branch departments and agencies.
– $24,273,944 for the Territorial Court.
– $ 2,600,000 for the Territorial Public Defender's Office.
Executive branch appropriations were cut to $479.7 million from the $482.4 million proposed by Turnbull. The Tourism Department budget was reduced from $3.1 million to $2.7 million. However, the committee voted to spare the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund from contributing to the territory's carnival celebrations this fiscal year, instead appropriating $1.3 million from the Anti-litter and Beautification Fund for V.I. Carnival, the St. John Festival and the Crucian Christmas Festival.
In other executive branch funding, the Office of the Governor was reduced from $5.7 million to $5.1 million and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, from $4.2 million to $3.9 million. Always the biggest departmental budget, the Education Department was reduced minimally, from $128.9 million to $128.3 million.
The committee approved intact the governor's legislation to authorize the Office of Management and Budget to allocate $44 million for salary increases for government workers and $12 million to cover increases in government employees' health insurance premiums.
The committee also approved Turnbull's proposal to create a Disaster Recovery Contingency Fund to meet immediate expenses following a hurricane or other disaster such as emergency operations of the V. I. National Guard. It is to be funded with a $1.4 million appropriation from the executive budget miscellaneous section.
Other large appropriations included $4 million for the Molasses Subsidy Fund, a measure Public Finance Authority director Amadeo Francis spoke forcibly about in an August Finance Committee hearing. He warned the senators to be cautious with the fund. "The health and welfare of the rum industry in the territory are of critical importance" to the V.I. economy, he said.
The committee also appropriated $2.1 million for rum promotion, $8.1 million for retirees' health insurance and $1.5 million for the newly created Economic Development Authority.
The committee approved $1.8 million more than Turnbull had proposed for the University of the Virgin Islands, which Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel said would fund pension increases for UVI retirees. Turnbull had proposed $22.8 million; the committee raised it to $24.6 million.
A line-item budget came out of the committee for the first time in recent years. The budget specifies amounts for salaries, rent, travel, capital outlays and several other expense categories. Recent budgets had allocated lump-sum budgets in order to give departments greater leeway in spending their appropriations.
"For the first time in many years, we are delivering an itemized budget," Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Finance Committee chair, said. "They must spend it for the specific purposes, and if there are changes, they must return to the Legislature."
But the committee approved granting departments more flexibility in paying off prior year obligations from current year appropriations, raising the cap from $5,000 to $25,000. Turnbull had asked for a $50,000 cap.
There were several recesses throughout the marathon meeting to allow the legislative legal counsel to draft amendments. The meeting had been scheduled to begin 10 a.m. Thursday but convened at 11:30 a.m., then broke repeatedly throughout the day and night. Hansen stated several times on Thursday that the committee members, other majority members and Post Audit staff had been up the night before, until 4:30 a.m. Thursday, hammering out the numerous bills.
An omnibus bill — a mix of policy edicts and initiatives to the executive branch — was last on the committee's agenda, and it was passed.
The committee tabled two bills, one to delay implementation of the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund and other to supply the Crisis Intervention Fund, which is supposed to be funded through the Internal Revenue Matching Fund. Senators said the funds were especially necessary now, given the territory's unstable financial future.
All of the bills approved by Finance are now scheduled to be considered by the Rules Committee at 10 a.m. Saturday on St. Croix. The bills approved by Rules are to go before the full Senate for a final vote on Monday and Tuesday on St. Thomas.


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