Home News Local news TURNBULL APPROVES $20M IN ADDITIONAL SPENDING

TURNBULL APPROVES $20M IN ADDITIONAL SPENDING

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Jan. 11, 2003 – In the face of overwhelming public sentiment and continuing protests of not just pay raises for top officials but wider fiscal accountability, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull late Friday, in addition to line-item vetoing the controversial pay raises, also signed into law more than $20 million in 11th-hour appropriations by the 24th Legislature.
From its final session on Dec. 23, the Senate sent him slightly more than $25 million in appropriations.
The first item in the bill, and one Turnbull approved, is a $300,000 allocation from the General Fund to Virgin Islands Music Festival LLC to produce a three-day concert this summer. Others ranged from funding a University of the Virgin Islands scholarship for a youngster who had saved another child from drowning to $8.4 million to cover start-up costs of a solid waste transfer station on St. Croix.
Among the wisest moves the governor has made lately, in the eyes of Erva Denham, president of the League of Women Voters, and a likely slew of landowners, was his veto on Friday of seven rezonings. "I am going to write to thank him right now," Denham said on Saturday.
In his cover letter to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Turnbull said: "It has been and will always be my policy that no rezoning will be approved unless public hearings have been held to afford affected residents an opportunity to learn . . . about affected changes."
He added that "many of the applicants have not filed necessary application to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, nor have the required public hearings been held . . . "
It was impossible to determine the exact amount of the appropriations approved, because Turnbull told Liburd that in some instances said he had approved "portions" of spending measures, but did not identify those portions in dollar terms.
The biggest appropriation of the bill is $10 million to the Public Works Department from the General Fund. Of this amount, $1.6 million is to satisfy a federal Environmental Protection Agency fine of $25 million. The $1.6 million was supposed to have been paid by October in order to avoid the entire $25 million fine. The other $8.4 million is for startup costs for Waste and Transfer Station operations on St. Croix in connection with the closing of the Anguilla landfill as ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Turnbull wrote Liburd that the allocations "will help avoid a $25 million fine against the government and move us substantially along in our efforts to resolve the sewage problems we have experience on St. Croix."
The governor approved, with reservations, the transfer of $3.6 million from the Indirect Cost Fund and $2.5 million from the Industrial Development Fund to cover negotiated union contract. "I am not in favor of raiding the Indirect Cost Fund to support non-federal salary increases for which this government lacks resources, because it jeopardizes all federal programs," he wrote. "Accordingly, I will urge the 25th Legislature to seek an alternative source of funding."
The appropriations for union-negotiated increases are:
– $400,000 to the International Association of Firefighters for supervisors.
– $1.9 million to the International Association of Firefighters for firefighters.
– $3.8 million to the United Steelworkers of America for members in various government departments and agencies.
Turnbull said he approved a section affecting unemployment benefits "in spite of some substantive errors," so that "when Congress acts to extend the unemployment benefits period, we will be in a position to take immediate advantage of the additional benefits and any federal funding made available." However, he told Liburd, "unless corrective action is taken to remedy the errors in this section, it will be unable to accomplish its intended purpose."
(Congress approved an extension of the unemployment benefits as its first act of the 2003 session this week.)
The governor item-vetoed sections of the bill affecting Economic Development Authority law because "they extend economic benefits to certain existing businesses engaged in garbage hauling or solid-waste services without the benefit of any public hearings on the proposed changes."
He termed the measure "directly contrary to the spirit and intent of the Economic Development law" and said it "appears to serve no purpose other than providing benefits for special private interests and erodes our tax base, rather than creating new jobs, new revenue or sustained investment."
Other appropriations that he approved include:
– $213,179 to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections to defray costs of the 2002 primary and general elections.
– $2.5 million to the Housing Authority to subsidize rent abatements for the elderly, disabled and poor for Calendar Year 2003.
– $600,000 to the Police Department to defray costs associated with hiring police officers who had been employed by the now-disbanded Housing Authority Police force.
– $300,000 to the Justice Department for the Witness Protection Program.
Turnbull also approved a measure that is not an appropriation but directly affects the government pocketbook through the Government Employees Retirement System. Proposed by Sen. Roosevelt David, it would allow retired government workers who are rehired to draw their retirement pay along with their current salary for a period of three years, an extension from the present 75 days.
In this case, again, Turnbull stated that he was approving a "portion of" the item without saying which portion.
The governor also vetoed "a portion" of an appropriation to Our Town Fredriksted to promote a blues festival. The appropriation measure includes the establishment of a new holiday. It is unclear whether the governor approved the holiday, along with funding.
The new holiday was laid out in an amendment sponsored by Sen. David Jones honoring the "Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise" aboard the cruise ship Melody, which will be visiting St. Croix on Feb. 11. The amendment states that Feb. 11, 2003, shall be observed as "Legendary Rhythm and Blues Fest Day" and states that the governor "may grant administrative leave to non-essential government employees to participate in the festival activities."
Other vetoes include:
– $250,000 for the Narcotics Strike Force. Turnbull said the Office of Management and Budget has told him the force has sufficient "vacancy savings" to meet its needs.
– The UVI scholarship for Sophia Johnson, the child who saved another child from drowning on St. Croix. The bill called for funding the award out of the Tourism Revolving Fund. Turnbull said that was an "inappropriate" use of the funds and that he would find alternative funding for the scholarship.
The governor saved the biggest news for last. The last sentence of his letter to Liburd, without further elaboration, reads: "Finally, after much consideration, I have decided to item-veto Section 39." See "Governor vetoes protested pay hikes".

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