Sept. 9, 2003 – Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., the majority leader in the last Legislature and a minority member in the current one, let Senate President David Jones know on Tuesday where he stands as far as the proposed Fiscal Year 2004 budget submitted to the Senate 10 days ago by the governor. And it is nowhere near to being in favor.
"It is apparent that inadequate planning and lack of common sense have contributed to this poor and insensitive budget," he said in a letter to Jones, noting that the governor presented the Legislature with the document three months past the May 31 deadline for doing so.
White told Jones that, having reviewed the administration proposal, "I would have preferred that the governor did not submit a budget."
He said the letter would "serve as notice of my unwavering opposition" to the following provisions of the budget Gov. Charles W. Turnbull unveiled on Aug. 29:
– Authorizing the governor to reduce the work week to 36 hours from 40.
– Authorizing the governor to furlough government employees.
– Imposing a moratorium on collective bargaining.
– Establishing a 10 percent surcharge on personal income tax liability.
– Increasing the gross receipts tax to 4.25 percent from the current 4 percent.
In addition White told Jones that he is "deeply troubled by the budget reduction of those agencies providing essential and critical services." He cited the Education and Police Departments.
White said he is "adamantly opposed" to amending the V.I. Code to empower the governor to furlough workers and reduce the work week "as he deems necessary." "The governor already has the authority to furlough employees under the exempt status, such as the assistants to the assistants in the various departments," he said. As for the idea of granting the chief executive authority to impose a one-year moratorium on labor negotiations, he said: "In essence, this is union busting."
He decried the income-tax surcharge as an effort "to tax employees twice on the same money earned." And of the gross receipts tax increase, he said that "I cannot in good conscience support any measure that would force businesses to leave the territory and further erode our tax base."
At the press conference on Aug. 29 where the governor's budget was made available to the news media, Turnbull said: "We considered all other options, and brought back these taxes reluctantly. Nobody wants them; we don't want them, but it is necessary to do this."
The governor has adamantly contended that putting government employees out of work would be counterproductive. At the press conference he once again made the point that "if we lay off workers, we have to provide for them, anyhow" through unemployment benefits.
To access the governor's 437-page proposed budget on the Source as an Adobe Acrobat Reader document, click here.
Stating that the governor wants to trim the Education budget by some $7 million, White said he had to wonder, "Is this the same department which has had three of its high schools failed in their accreditation? Is this the same department which held the lowest scores in the nation in math and reading? Is this the same department to which the administration professed to leave no child behind?"
And the Police Department, he said, stands to take a $10.2 million cut, including $2 million for personnel. White, a former police chief, pointed to officers about to retire. "With crime rampant and out of control," he asked, "is this the time to provide more, or less, to the Police Department?"
He told Jones that the executive budget must be "sent back to the governor stamped Rejected." He called on the Senate president to call "a speedy legislative session" to accomplish that objective and to provide that "a replacement budget be substituted by the Legislature."
Countless hours of work have already gone into the development of such a budget. In mid-July, in the absence of the governor's proposed budget, the Finance Committee began holding hearings nonetheless. Department, office and agency heads took their turns over the course of six weeks submitting and defending their requests for FY 2004 funding. Many, despite the government's looming FY 2003 fiscal deficit, asked for increased appropriations.
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. If the Legislature has not adopted a new budget by that time, the current one carries over until it does. However, many agency heads indicated during their testimony before the Finance Committee that they have yet to receive allocations for the fourth quarter of FY 2003, which began on July 1.
The Finance Committee still has one more hearing to go in the budget testimony process — the traditional overview from the administration's top fiscal officials. That hearing had been scheduled for Aug. 26-27, but Turnbull asked that it be delayed until after he submitted his own budget, which he pledged to do by Aug. 30. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, committee chair, agreed to the request, deferring the hearing to Sept. 23-24.
Donastorg said on Monday that he expects his committee to finish marking up whatever budget it decides to go with and to send it to the full Senate by the first or second week of October.

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