Nov. 5, 2004 Almost two months after Senate President David Jones claimed the fiscal year 2005 budget would make it to Government House by the Sept. 30 deadline, the $567.5 million budget finally arrived on Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's desk Wednesday, the day after elections.
The highly controversial document was approved by the Legislature Oct. 4, four days into the new fiscal year, after months of debate and discord.
Though the numbers are not that far apart Turnbull's budget, which he submitted one day before the May 30 deadline, is $565.5 million the two documents veer widely.
The senators tossed out the governor's three tax proposals a $3 hotel room tax, a $3 annual cell phone user tax and a $50 annual vehicle fee projected to generate $9 million annually. And they approved the $9.3 million in raises for unionized government employees, which Turnbull has repeatedly vetoed. The raises would be funded from money set aside for income tax refunds and from a percentage of property taxes set aside for infrastructure improvements.
The budget was approved with a 14-1 vote, with Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg casting the negative vote. He took issue with an amendment to the budget bill reducing the amount of money set aside for tax refunds to 5 percent from 10 percent.
"It's a sad day for me," Donastorg said at that meeting, adding that he had fought hard and long to ensure the government would not fall behind in its tax refund payments. He claims the reduction of the set-aside would hinder the government from paying refunds in a timely manner. His colleagues disagreed, insisting there were sufficient funds in the account.
The budget covers the operating expenses of the executive, legislative and judicial branches along with the operating expenses of the University of the Virgin Islands and WTJX-Public Television.
The executive branch (including the "miscellaneous" section) gets the lion's share at about $497.2 million; $40.6 million is appropriated for the legislative and judicial branches, $27.5 million for UVI and $2.06 million for WTJX.
Late budgets have become almost traditional in the territory. After Turnbull vetoed the FY 2004 budget in its entirety last December, the territory operated on the FY 2003 budget until a supplemental budget was submitted by Turnbull, amended by the Legislature, line-item vetoed by Turnbull, and sent back to the Legislature and up to Government House barely four months before the beginning of FY 2005.
The FY 2005 budget has been slogging through the Legislature since Oct. 4. It must go through a thorough house cleaning for legal sufficiency by the legal counsel's office before proceeding to Jones for his perusal and signature. Pinpointing its location it along the way has proven challenging. A spokesperson in the St. Thomas legal counsel office said Friday that she believed the document went to Jones' office last Friday.
There has been speculation in some sectors that the senators didn't want to submit the document before the elections, as several line-item vetoes from Turnbull are almost a given, if he doesn't simply veto the document in its entirety as he did in FY 2004. This would be a major embarrassment for the 10 Democratic senators.
Turnbull has 10 days to act on the budget, excepting Sundays and holidays, which should make it due on Nov. 13. This depends on whether it was delivered by noon Wednesday, but Government House spokeswoman Rina Roebuck said Friday that she couldn't confirm the document's arrival time.
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