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HomeNewsArchivesMANDATORY CAR INSURANCE AND BALANCED BUDGET ON THE HORIZON

MANDATORY CAR INSURANCE AND BALANCED BUDGET ON THE HORIZON

A revenue enhancement act that makes car insurance mandatory and allows cruise ships to keep casinos open while in port in St. Thomas, along with a bill that gives senators more control over government finances, were approved by a Senate committee Thursday.
With little substantial discussion and no opposition, the Senate Committee on Rules unanimously approved and forwarded to the full Legislature both the Short Term Revenue Enhancement Act of 1999 and the Government Financial Accountability Act of 1999.
Along with car insurance and allowing ship casinos to stay open, the Revenue Enhancement Act also establishes a cigarette tax and adjusts a number of fees in the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
Many senators said mandatory car insurance was overdue.
"This proposal is going to revenue for the treasury, it's going to create protection for all individuals in the Virgin Islands because everyone will have to get liability and it will also mandate that we do something to reduce the possibility of someone being in an accident and there is no way they can get some kind of reprieve," Sen. Lorraine Berry said.
Voicing his support for compulsory insurance, Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd said policies should be affordable and widely available when it is required in the Virgin Islands.
"Many persons feel that a bunch of people buy a bunch of old cars, run you down and you can't get any money from it. And there's those people who buy a brand-new car, have to have full insurance and somebody with an uninsured car hits them, they don't have any insurance," Liburd said.
"The only concern I have with the whole thing is that once mandatory insurance is put in place, one, it becomes affordable, two, there are enough companies that provide it so that we don't put our people in a position where they have a car now and they can't afford to pay for their insurance to keep it on the road," Liburd said.
Allowing ships to keep casinos open is expected to increase revenues because it will encourage the ships to stay in port longer. That should result in passengers not feeling rushed to return to their ships and thus spending more money in St. Thomas.
Liburd, Rules Committee Chair Anne Golden and Sens. Gregory Bennerson and Vargrave Richards voted in favor of both the revenue bill and the financial accountability bill. Rules members Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Judy Gomez were excused and Sen. Adelbert M. "Bert" Bryan was absent.
The accountability bill mandates a balanced budget, creates an attrition program for the public workforce, decreases the amount of exempt positions and orders better maintenance of federal grants, among other things.
"It is designed to streamline the government operations," Berry said. "Our government is facing a serious financial crisis for many reasons. And if we assess the reasons, it's due to the increase in government cost and functions, declining revenues resulting from inefficiency, reduced enforcement of collection practices . . . and continued increased borrowing to meet obligations. And of course lack of private investment, and also the deficit carry over and impact of devastating hurricanes over the last several years."
If the bill is passed, the balanced budget law would take effect for the Fiscal Year 2001 budget since the Turnbull administration has already submitted its Fiscal Year 2000 budget to the Legislature, Berry said.
The bill's attrition program, which will reduce the government workforce by not replacing certain employees who retire, is mandated to last until 2002.
Another goal of the bill is to better manage federal grants. The bill orders a review of all funds and programs and mandates that once a federally funded program expires, all positions related to it also expire. In some instances, people employed by federal programs have retained their jobs after the federal funding has run out.
The bill also directs the administration to do an evaluation of government properties to determine if departments and agencies that now rent space from private landlords can move and save some of the $8 million the executive branch spends on rent.
The bill also mandates a reduction of exempt employees an administration can hire.
"The exempt employee situation has been always one that has . . . been taken advantage of," said Senate President Vargrave Richards. "Every administration comes in and hires their own exempt employees, but then in a space of two to five years, you find that those employees can apply to be classified employees.
"Classified employees means that you're burdening the government, you're expanding the government, growing the government, and creating an undue load," Richards said.
Richards and other senators wondered about the Legislature's ability to make the executive branch follow these mandates.
"In previous years we've had amnesties and they have not been followed," Richards said. "It would behoove the Legislature and interest groups in this community to force executive branches who fail adhere to the law to do the right thing, by taking them to court and forcing them. Any other way means we'll continue to have an overwhelming government and we will face more and more no pay days by failing to act."
The committee also approved a bill creating a Virgin Islands Cancer Registry and approved the nominations of Aubrey Lee and St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Louis Hill to the Public Employees Relations Board.

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