Before leaving for the mainland this weekend, Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed an $87 million bond-authorization bill into law, but only after he line-item vetoed a few appropriations added by senators during a special session almost two weeks ago.
The governor called senators into special session earlier this month to act on the bill, which would give the government some extra money to jumpstart some critical capital projects. Members of the governor’s financial team have described the proposal — coupled with an up-to-$250-million borrowing bill recently signed into law — as a local economic stimulus, which would help create jobs and put more money on the streets.
"The activity created by these projects will provide a needed boost to the economic foundation in the Virgin Islands and benefit both the private and public sectors by providing opportunities for our small businesses, improving schools and roadways, creating jobs, increasing the currency circulating in the territory, addressing lingering concerns over landfills and growing tax revenues," deJongh wrote over the weekend in a letter to Senate President Louis P. Hill.
The second section of the bill also makes clear that timeshares are removed from usury limitations under the V.I. Code.
However, the bill was amended by senators before it was approved during the special session. The amendment slashed by a total $1.7 million funds earmarked for the new V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency building and some maintenance projects under the Education Department, along with increasing by about $1.6 million the amount of money in the bill’s "other critical capital projects" category.
Financial team members have said at previous meetings that the $15 million earmarked in that category would basically be used as a cushion, covering any cost overruns, change orders and other unexpected expenses associated with the long list of capital projects expected to be funded by the bond proceeds. The amendment, however, put the now $16.6 million toward specific projects, which include installing potable water lines, constructing police substations on St. Croix, fixing various playgrounds and ballfields and upgrading facilities at several public schools, among other things.
In his letter to Hill, deJongh gave various reasons for line-item vetoing several of the appropriations. Some of them, he said, were for programs instead of projects, or both programs and projects with combined funding.
"Bond proceeds derived from a bond issuance for capital projects may not be legally used for programs,” the governor explained. Vetoed appropriations include:
— $130,000 to the Education Department for the Gladys Abraham School’s playground, equipment, expansion of the gardening program and the continuance of its swimming and cultural-arts program initiative;
— $100,000 to Human Services to buy medical-alert bracelets;
— $15,000 to Education for E. Benjamin Oliver School’s steel-band program;
— $10,000 to Education for cosmetology classes at Charlotte Amalie High School;
— $54,380 to Education for laptop trolleys and carts at St. Croix’s Central High School and Educational Complex; and
— $10,000 to Education for cosmetology classes at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
Other appropriations were vetoed because they did not include enough money for the specific project, including:
— $1 million to Property and Procurement to build a parking garage in Christiansted;
— $100,000 to Public Works to buy air-conditioning units at Evelyn Marcelli School; and
— $30,000 to Education for library upgrades and enhancements at E. Benjamin Oliver.
The approval of the bill sends two messages, deJongh wrote in his letter to Hill.
"The first to the people of the Virgin Islands that the government recognizes the seriousness of the challenges presented by the current economic crisis, and is not resigned to relying on the actions of the federal government, but committed to taking its own steps to reversing the downward trend and protect the interests of its residents," he said. "The second message is to the business community that the Virgin Islands is a jurisdiction that welcomes their investments and will take reasonable steps to assist and encourage the development of industries which enlarge our private sector and provide opportunities for our entrepreneurs."