Concerns over the territory’s already-tight budget prompted acting Gov. Gregory R. Francis to cut some appropriations that cleared last month’s full Senate session.
In a letter sent Monday to Senate President Ronald E. Russell, Francis said he was approving two bills out of the stack: one prohibiting the V.I. Water and Power Authority from charging more than $25 to reconnect customers and another that increases fees at the V.I. Superior Court.
Now that the bill is signed into law, the WAPA reconnection cap becomes effective July 1.
Amendments tacked on to the Superior Court bill also change the implementation date of the $1 marine users tax to Jan. 1, 2012; remove customs duty and excise tax exemptions from appliances and lighting that use direct current electricity; and mandate all boards, commissions, departments, divisions or agencies review their rules and regulations every five years.
The majority of a third bill that exempts veterans from paying for handicapped window decals issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was also approved. Francis did, however, line-item veto a small portion of one section that reprograms $775,000 from the miscellaneous section of the fiscal year 2011 budget and puts it toward school maintenance costs and the purchase of HIV medications.
In crafting the bill to show the adjustments to the miscellaneous section, senators included a $31 million appropriation for negotiated salary increases that Gov. John deJongh said the government currently could not afford to pay.
Francis underscored that message Monday, writing, "I have line-item vetoed this amount because, as the administration has stated repeatedly, we do not have the funds to implement those terms negotiated prior to us all — in all branches of government — having arrived at a full and complete evaluation and understanding of the extraordinary depths of our budgetary crisis not just for this fiscal year, but, more troublingly so, for the year after."
He added that it wouldn’t be right for some employees to be making less than others and receiving fewer benefits "just solely by the happenstance of the timing or cycle of the renegotiation of their collective bargaining agreements."
Meanwhile, Francis said that "heavily amending" the executive budget midway through the fiscal year is "disingenuous" and that the "savings claimed is deceiving as some of the now ‘reduced’ appropriations have already been allotted."
"It should also be noted that many of the ‘cuts’ made by the Legislature to the miscellaneous section of the budget were already being implemented by the administration," Francis wrote.
Other sections of the bill that were signed into law: expand the V.I. code’s definition of a "ballot" as "the instrument upon which a voter’s choices are recorded" by defining "instrument" to mean paper ballots, absentee ballots, provisional ballots, voting machine apparatus or system or any other device used to record a voter’s choice; and requires the V.I. Port Authority to give the Senate a plan to relocate all the residents of its Estate Bournefield properties before it can move anyone out or demolish any of the buildings.
Francis also vetoed two bills dealing with veterans that:
– factor members of the V.I. National Guard with eight or more years of service into the lawful definition of "veteran;" increase burial benefits for deceased veterans from $3,500 to $5,000; and provide tuition and "related financial benefits" to veterans enrolled at the University of the Virgin Islands; and
-extend burial benefits to all military veterans born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and planned to be buried there, but were living abroad at their time of death.
In his letter to Russell, Francis said that while the territory and administration supports and honors its veterans, there were numerous problems with the bills.
"Especially in times of budgetary crisis … the Legislature simply cannot be in the business of providing everything to everybody just because they were asked to do so without regard to cost," he wrote. "And above even these issues is my concern that the definition of Virgin Islander for the purpose of receiving governmental benefits cannot and should not be solely determined by one’s place of birth."
Francis added that the administration has "a long record of not discriminating on the basis of place of birth, and shall not now mar that record, especially when dealing with the support of or benefits to those who have served us all in the military."