March 10, 2006 – Two appropriations slashed from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's $59.2 supplemental budget bill during a Rules Committee hearing Tuesday are now part of a new appropriations bill which senators unanimously approved during a full body session Thursday.
Sen. Ronald E. Russell, chair of the Rules Committee, said the appropriations – a $6.3 million supplemental budget request from the Health Department, and $15.8 million to fund salary increases for union and non-union classified government employees – were "inadvertently" excluded from the set of appropriations reported out to the full body during the Rules meeting.
"When the Rules Committee met earlier this week to consider the original supplemental budget, we decided to cut out the appropriations which we thought were most critical, and move them onto the full body for approval," Russell said after Thursday's session. "The rest of the appropriations in the bill remained in the Rules Committee for further consideration. However, legal counsel told us today that since we moved some appropriations forward and held the rest, we had to create a new bill for the appropriations we were keeping. The other appropriations which are pending in Rules, however, remain as part of the original supplemental budget bill."
During the session, Russell said the Rules Committee attempted to meet with members of Turnbull's financial team after Tuesday's meeting to discuss some of the appropriations which were left behind – particularly an $18.3 million appropriation to fund salary increases for union and non-union classified government employees and unclassified exempt government employees.
"We had wanted to move this appropriation forward during Tuesday's meeting, but we decided to discuss it with the financial team," Russell said. "However, when we went to meet them Tuesday night, they didn't show up, and we were left standing around waiting for them. So, what the Rules committee decided to do is appropriate $15.8 million in the new bill for salary increases — for those employees who deserve it — and hold back the remaining $3 million which was supposed to fund salary increases for the upper echelon of individuals in government – the unclassified exempt employees already making a lot of money and can't bother to come and meet with us to discuss something important."
Russell said during Thursday's session the Rules Committee also decided to add a $6.3 million supplemental budget request from the Health Department to the new bill. The appropriation, which was included in the original supplemental budget bill, would fund the department's outstanding financial obligations, including roughly $245,000 worth of rent owed by the East End Medical Clinic. If the rent is not paid, the clinic stands to be evicted from its location at the Tutu Park Mall on St. Thomas (See "East End Health Clinic to Remain at Tutu Park Mall").
During Friday's session, senators unanimously voted to approve the new bill, which additionally appropriates:
–$5.9 million to the Justice Department for outstanding obligations and improvements to the Bureau of Corrections (including improvements at the Golden Grove prison facility on St. Croix and the Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas).
–$3.5 million to the Finance Department to replenish the Government Insurance Fund and to fund flood damage claims made by homeowners in the Mon Bijoux community on St. Croix.
–$10 million to the Education Department to fund various programs until a third-party fiduciary is in place and federal funding can be released.
–$4.8 million to the Human Services department for various projects and to cover program funding shortfalls until a third-party fiduciary is in place.
–$750,000 to the Police Department for fuel costs.
–$1.5 million to the Labor Department to correct various health and safety violations.
–$400,000 to the Office of Veterans Affairs to reimburse air and ground transportation costs for veterans who travel off-island for medical care.
–$500,000 to the Virgin Islands Fire Services for equipment and outstanding compensation.
After the vote, Sen. Lorraine L. Berry said the remaining supplemental budget appropriations would be considered during the next full body session on April 10, and promised senators that they could each offer three amendments to the bill.
All senators were present during Thursday's session.
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