Sept. 18, 2003 – The point man for Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's fiscal recovery management team gave members of Rotary Club of St. Thomas II an optimistic progress report on Wednesday of the administration's efforts to reign in its budget deficit.
But, Nathan Simmonds said, the government's efforts at reducing spending have repeatedly been blocked by labor leaders representing unionized public employees.
Now, he said, Government House wants the Legislature to strip some of the power from the Public Employees Relations Board, which he said has in almost every case brought before it held that, financial crisis or not, the administration must honor its collective bargaining agreements.
Simmonds, who directs the Office of Fiscal and Economic Recovery Implementation within the Office of the Governor, also said the projected deficit for Fiscal Year 2003, which ends Sept. 30, has dropped to $116 million, counting the government's recently obtained $100 million "bridge loan." And he thanked the community for efforts toward helping the government to improve its revenue collections.
Administration financial officials had projected the deficit earlier this year at $152 million.
Speaking at the weekly Rotary II luncheon meeting at Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, Simmonds said the $116 million figure does not include finance charges for the $100 million loan, which is to be repaid with proceeds from a $235 million bond issue authorized by the Legislature in July.
"With the financing, the $100 million interim financing that we've been able to secure, we've been able to put that into the cash flow, so the deficit has been reduced to about $16.5 million," he said.
Simmonds said improved revenue collections, first mentioned at a Government House briefing in July, are continuing. Collections continued to improve through August and are again doing so in September, he said, and if the trend continues, the government will continue to reduce — and ideally could eliminate — the deficit.
He stressed the importance of a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2004 and credited the governor with putting together a spending plan that reflects that administration goal. The budget is now in the hands of the Legislature, he noted, and if lawmakers don't like the governor's plan, they need to replace it with another one that holds expenditures to realistically anticipated revenues.
"In the final analysis, it has to be balanced," he said. "You can't just say that we're going to approve this spending plan unless you have the revenues to support it. We have submitted a budget that has significant expenditure reductions, and some tax increases as well."
The governor presented his proposed budget to the Legislature on Aug. 29, after the Senate Finance Committee had already taken testimony from department and agency heads on their budget needs in a series of hearings that began in mid-July. The administration proposal, which calls for new and increased taxes, a cutback to a 36-hour work week for government employees and a one-year moratorium on collective bargaining, has been criticized widely within both the public and private sectors.
Simmonds was critical on Wednesday of those who have called for more cutbacks in spending: "Everyone wants to say 'cut government, cut government, you have a bloated government.' But you still want the services," he said. "How much is this bloat if we say we don't have enough policemen, we don't have enough nurses, we don't have enough doctors, we don't have enough teachers? Well, where is the bloat, then? Because theses are the positions that are on the higher end of the salary bracket."
He also noted that discussions are under way on reducing the carryover of accumulated sick and annual leave for workers who don't use their entire annual entitlements, and on moving government offices out of rented space and consolidating government agencies.

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