Home News Local news Senate Synopsis: Sept. 19 to 23

Senate Synopsis: Sept. 19 to 23


Sept. 24, 2005 – The Senate was taken up most of last week with budget mark-ups and then appropriations bills. By the end of the week the budget remained pretty much what the governor had sent down in the first place – until an unanticipated note from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull changed all that. But that comes later.
The biggest noise was made by minority senators who felt left out of the process.
(See "Senate Moves Appropriation Bills with Little Debate") and "Full Senate Approves 26 Appropriations Bills — With Contention").
But there was one surprise.
In an uncharacteristic move, senators turned away one of the governor's nominees for the Public Services Commission. A tie vote for his re-nomination sent Alric Simmonds packing. Simmonds, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's deputy chief of staff, had been nominated to serve a second term. By virtue of the absence of chairman Valecio Jackson – who's been "let go" by Turnbull – Simmonds would have been the new chairman by default – at least until January when the commission elects a chairperson. But some thought it was a bad move to have someone whose job depends on the favor of the governor in such a powerful position. Alecia Wells, another unpopular choice to return to the PSC for another term, barely squeaked through.( See "Simmonds Nomination Nixed by Senate, 8 Others Approved").
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg accused Wells, of riding on Innovative Communications Corp.'s jet – while drinking champagne. Someone else said she didn't drink the champagne, causing one observer to compare that to President Bill Clinton smoking marijuana, but not inhaling.
Meanwhile back at the budget, Turnbull notified senators midday Friday that Louis M. Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director, had found $60 million he hadn't counted on when tallying the anticipated revenues – something like the $100 million Willis found a few years ago.
Some of the senators, especially Finance Committee chairman Norman Jn Baptiste, said they had known all along there would be a budget surplus.
That aside, the governor asked for a special session on Friday Sept. 30 to review a couple of bills he sent down with a check list of where he wants the $60 million to be spent. Senate President Lorraine L. Berry balked at the suggestion saying the bills could be addressed in Monday's full session – already called to deal with the Legislature's budget and other bills pending before the body. As of publication time, no one had notified the media about what the plan was. The Senate Calendar faxed Friday afternoon shows neither a meeting on Friday, nor the governor's bills on Monday's agenda. The Senate Web site still showed last week's agenda.
At least one person expressed deep displeasure with the budget appropriations for her department.
May Adams Cornwall, executive director of the V.I. Waste Mangement Authority, in a discussion about another matter Friday afternoon, called a $5.5 million cut to the WMA's budget "devastating." Meanwhile – unbeknown to Cornwall it seems senators gave the $5.5 million back and Turnbull has asked the Senate to appropriate another $2 million to WMA out of the $60 million find.
But who really knows — when the budget appropriations and omnibus bills get moving around the Senate floor, it can feel like a shell game. Close observation is required to have any idea of where the money and the pork ends up.
In the only other matter last week, Claudette Lewis, assistant commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources, also stepped out of character when she said loud and clear for all to hear, "We are not a literate community." The normally tight-lipped Lewis was speaking at a meeting of the Committee on Education, Culture and Youth, called to address the state of libraries on St. Croix. (See "Testifiers Lament Low Literacy of Community").
A congenial exchange of ideas took place between the library-friendly testifiers and senators about how to attack the literacy problem. Some senators said the Internet was the problem, but Lewis said it was more like $100 sneakers that took priority over books for many.
Librarians pointed out that computers and the digital age give children much more access to information than in the old days. In fact, a number of projects that will see the V.I. step up to the digital plate are being funded with grants to the University of the Virgin Islands.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, however, said he'd rather his child have a book than a computer.
That may be part of the problem Patricia Oliver ran across when she blasted the Senate for not updating its Web site. Oliver pointed out that the bills appearing on the site were from the 25th, not the 26th Legislature.
The minority-majority rift came up again when Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, a member of the senate minority, told Oliver she needed to talk to the senate majority members because they controlled what happened on the Web site.
But Oliver wasn't having any of the politics. She said she just wanted to see the Web page providing real and timely information.
One senate insider later offered an explanation for the absence of updating. The person who programed the site is gone, and no one else really knows how to work it – an all-too common problem in cyber-space.
Maybe the senators could look for some grants themselves to get a top-notch programmer and support staff who can update the site.
And maybe now that the senators have appropriated an additional – and unasked for – $1.1 million for the Office of Information Technology – the Office of the Governor, and his public relations office – will be able to send and receive e-mails. After borrowing more than $20 million to prepare for Y2K ya' think maybe it's time?!

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