Home News Local news VETOES INCLUDE FUNDING FOR FIREFIGHTERS' RAISES

VETOES INCLUDE FUNDING FOR FIREFIGHTERS' RAISES

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Sept. 24, 2003 – Firefighters got another setback on Tuesday in their year-long struggle for raises as Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed an amendment funding the pay hikes. The line-item veto was one of many amid the assorted bill signings the governor sent down to the Legislature late Tuesday night.
The veto was the latest in a series of attempts to fund the firefighters' raises. Turnbull signed a bill passed by the 24th Legislature in its last session, on Dec. 23, 2002, which appropriated $3.6 million from the Indirect Cost Fund and $2.5 million from the Industrial Development Fund to cover increases negotiated with the following bargaining units:
– International Association of Firefighters, covering supervisors, $400,000.
– International Association of Firefighters, covering firefighters, $1.9 million
– United Steelworkers of America, covering employees in various departments and agencies, $3.8 million.
In signing that bill nearly nine months ago, Turnbull said in his cover letter to then-Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd that he was "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. Accordingly, I will urge the 25th Legislature to seek an alternative source of funding."
That funding never materialized. Karen Andrews, the administration's chief labor negotiator, announced in January that the government had been forced to "temporarily suspend all contract negotiations, pending a reassessment of the government's finances." (See "Government suspends contract negotiations".)
In March, the firefighters took the issue to court, only to have it tossed out. Judge Audrey Thomas-Francis rejected the union's argument that a temporary restraining order was the way to force the government to pay them the negotiated pay raise of 22.4 percent over four years.
Thomas-Francis ordered the union to take its complaint to the Public Employees Relations Board. Union leader Daryl George at the time such an approach would amount to a run-around. "All PERB will do is issue an order for the government to pay, and then it goes back to court," he said, "so we're going around in a circle." The PERB can issue orders, but it "cannot sanction the government," he said.
In a Sept. 4 legislative session, Sen. Usie Richards, the minority leader, successfully offered the amendment that Turnbull vetoed on Tuesday. Sponsored by the minority caucus, it appropriated $2.5 million for the firefighters' raises, with $1.5 million to come from interest on bond proceeds and $1 million from the Union Arbitration Award and Government Employees Increment Fund.
Turnbull, in his cover letter to Senate President David Jones said he was "sympathetic" to the needs of the firefighters, but "in these times of financial downturn, we cannot continue to over-appropriate or obligate the government to spend monies that do not exist." In addition, he said, there must be a recurring source of funds for the contracts.
"This one-time appropriation is insufficient to sustain the salaries of the firefighter in the future. The Legislature must identify a permanent funding source for these contracts," he wrote.
The Senate approved the amendment on a 12-1 vote with two absent, so it appears likely that Richards will be able to muster the necessary 10 votes for an override of the veto. All senators present except Sen. Ronald Russell voted for the measure. Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Liburd were absent.
There may be another stumbling block, however. At a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced a one-year moratorium on union negotiations.
Measures signed into law
Turnbull approved the distribution of $1.95 million in 2003 federal Community Development Block Grant funds and almost $790,000 in reprogrammed grant funds from previous years. He also approved a number of rezonings. For the governor's proposed distribution of the CDBG funding, see "38 projects proposed for 2003 block grant funds".
The governor also vetoed amendments to:
– Allow safari or surrey tour-bus drivers to register new vehicles of the same seating capacity as those they had previously registered. Expressing concern about the large vehicles meeting federal safety requirements, Turnbull said he was "strongly opposed to allowing new vehicles to be constructed for operation on our steep and narrow roadways." He said he would not put federal highway funds in jeopardy by enacting legislation to "benefit a few drivers."
– Reduce the penalties for violation of seat belt laws and for drunken driving.
– Tap the St. John Capital Improvement Fund for the Public Works Department to pay vendors. The governor said DPW already is making arrangements to pay the vendors.
– Pay a Public Works vendor which the governor said is incorrectly identified. According to DPW, the vendor is "Shaky Tide Company," whereas the amendment names "Shady Tree Company." Turnbull said the measures thus requires a "substantive change which I am not authorized to correct."
The governor also signed into law a bill naming the new cancer center being developed at Roy L. Schneider Hospital in honor of Charlotte Kimelman. "Mrs. Kimelman is truly deserving of this honor for outstanding service and contributions to this community," Turnbull said.
He also acknowledged a resolution honoring the charter members of the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union on the occasion of the entity's 50th anniversary.
The rezonings and variance bills approved by the governor are:
St. Croix:
No. 25-0070 – Parcel No. 303 and 303A Estate Barren Spot, from R-2 to R-3 (residential – No. 25-0084 – variance for the remainder of Estate Castle Coakley, to operate an animal shelter, flea market and gift shop.
No. 25-0072 – Plot No. 149 Estate Barren Spot, from R-2 (residential – low density, one- and two-family) to B-3 (business – scattered).
No. 25-0073 – Plot Nos. 3 and 3A Estate Hartmanns, from A-1 (agriculture) to B-3.
medium density).
No. 25-0079 – Plot No. 4N Estate Sion Farm, from R-2 to B-2.
No. 25-0080 – Plot No. 4KA Estate Sion Farm, from R-2 to B-2 (business – secondary/neighborhood).
St. Thomas:
No. 25-0071 – Parcel No. 2-1 Estate Mariendahl, from R-2 to B-3.
No. 25-0074 – Parcel No. 7 Estate Agnes Fancy, from R-1 (residential – low density) to R-2.
No. 25-0075 – Parcel No. 32B Estate Frydendahl, from B-4 (business – residential areas) to B-3.
No. 25-0076 – Parcel No. 33-139 Estate Nadir, from R-2 to S (special); and Parcel Nos. 178-230 and 178-231 and a portion of No. 178 remainder Estate Altona and Welgunst, from R-4 (residential – medium density) to S.
No. 25-0077 – variance for Parcel Nos. A-2 and A-1-A Estate Thomas and No. 6K New Quarter for operating Kazi Management Inc.
No. 25-0078 – Parcel No. 52-3, 52-3A and 52 remainder Estate Frydendahl, from R-2 to B-3.

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