Sept. 23, 2005 — Thursday's minority majority squabble spilled over into Friday's Legislative session. During Thursday's Rules Committee meeting, the majority had voted quickly, and without debate, on 26 appropriations bills, as well as held a closed-door caucus for the mark up of the executive budget.
Sen. Ronald E. Russell, the only minority member at the Rules meeting, had railed against these practices Thursday and asked his colleagues to join him in protest during the full body meeting. (See "Senate Moves Appropriation Bills with Little Debate").
"All the bills we're considering today were forwarded to the full body with a closed-rule policy," Russell said. "That means all the senators who were not present at yesterday's meeting will not have a chance to offer any amendments to the measures we're considering. That's just wrong."
Sen. Lorraine L. Berry corrected Russell, saying any amendments senators wished to offer could technically be introduced on Monday, when the senators vote on the Omnibus Justice Act of 2005.
"Great," Sen. Craig W. Barshinger said, "now we're going to tack on a whole bunch of amendments to the Omnibus Bill until the measure doesn't make any sense at all. This process is a joke."
Barshinger continued by reminding senators that the one of the bills, a line item budget for the operating expenses of the executive branch, was not forwarded to the floor for a vote until 8 p.m. Thursday evening. "You guys approved that without any discussion, and brought it to the floor for a final vote today without allowing any one to make amendments," Barshinger said. "That's a great injustice, and the people are going to have to think whether this is the kind of Legislature they can support."
Barshinger added that all 15 of the senators are willing to work and make decisions, not just the eight majority members.
Barshinger had another beef closer to home. While he had been trying to get additional money for his home island of St. John , majority members were trying to grab $1.5 million from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to give to the Waste Management Authority.
"But I see in the executive budget [additional] appropriations for the Waste Management Authority totaling $5.5 million," not including the $1.5 million from the St. John fund. . "Why can't this $1.5 million go to the people of St. John," Barshinger asked.
Sen. Lorraine L. Berry told Barshinger the bill was an administrative measure, not crafted by any of the senators. Barshinger responded by asking Berry if she was willing to take responsibility for it because she sponsored the bill on the governor's behalf.
"I'm not going to debate with you on this," Berry said.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville also complained he had not been invited to one budget mark-up session — despite being present at all Finance Committee meetings. "By doing that, what you're saying to me is that I don't count, my St. Croix constituents don't count. This is not how it's supposed to be at all."
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste responded to Figueroa-Serville's comments by telling his colleague he was listening to every concern and suggestion introduced at Finance Committee hearings. "I can assure you, the thoughts of the minority have been considered by the majority, and are reflected in the budget," Jn Baptiste said.
Minority senators were still not convinced. "I noticed that most of the bills considered today have not been changed at all from the governor's recommendations," Sen. Neville James said. "Why are we continuing to put faith in a governor who has continued to disappoint us?" James added the he and Sen. Roosevelt C. David were also not invited to attend budget mark-up sessions.
Jn Baptiste corrected James by saying there has been a $3.3 million increase from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's initial recommendation. "It is a conservative figure, but it's fiscally prudent," Jn Baptiste said.
James responded by saying the majority party has taken on the attributes of the nation's Republican Party.
"The majority doesn't mean consensus, it means contentious," David added.
Nevertheless, all senators voted to approve the budget, totaling $513.6 million. In addition, 25 appropriations bills were voted on unanimously and passed without debate.
–appropriate $4.8 million to the Department of Finance for the upgrade of the Financial Management system.
–amend Act No. 673 as it relates to the Castle Burke community.
–provide an appropriation from the Caribbean Basin Initiative Fund for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–appropriate $23.2 million for salaries and expenses of the University of the Virgin Islands.
–appropriate $4.6 million to WTJX Public Television System.
–appropriate $16.2 million to the V.I. Waste Management Authority.
–provide $24.9 million for salaries and operating expenses for the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and the Judicial Council.
–provide $2.6 million for operating expenses of the Office of the Territorial Public Defender.
–appropriate $5.5 million from the Anti-litter and Beautification Fund to the Waste Management Authority for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–appropriate for operating expenses from the Business and Commercial Properties Revolving Fund.
–appropriate from the Government Insurance Fund for operating expenses of the Finance and Labor Departments for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–make a lump-sum appropriation from the Health Revolving Fund for fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–provide for a lump-sum appropriation from the Indirect Cost Fund for salaries, operating expenses and for other purposes for the Office of Management and Budget, the Division of Personnel, Property and Procurement and the Finance Department for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–t appropriate $3.5 million from the interest earned on debt service as a contribution to the General Fund to provide for the operating expenses of the Public Employees Relations Board.
–appropriate funds to the Public Services Commission for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006 for operating expenses.
— appropriate for operating expenses of the Waste Management Authority from the Sewer Waste Water Fund for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–provide a contribution from the Union Arbitration Award and Government Employees Increment Fund to the General Fund for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
–appropriate funds to the Taxicab Division of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006 for operating expenses.
–amend Title II of the V.I.Code, Chapter 2, Section 28, Subsection (e), relating to the amount of prior year's obligations.
–amend Title 20 of the V.I. Code, Subsection (d), as it relates to taxi medallion auction for veterans, and for other related purposes.
–provide appropriations from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006.
The appropriation of $16.2 million for the Waste Management Authority was the only measure not unanimously approved. It was opposed by Sens. Barshinger, David, Pedro Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, James, and Russell.
The bills will be forwarded to Turnbull for his signature.
All senators were present at Friday's meeting.
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