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Wednesday, July 6, 2022


More bleak financial news may be looming on the territory's horizon as Gov. Charles Turnbull is reportedly set to meet today with federal officials in St. Thomas and Friday with the V.I. Legislature.
The meeting with legislators is ostensibly to discuss "the budget" but is likely to focus on stringent — and painful — cuts in government spending.
The 30 days given to the V.I. government to submit its economic recovery plan to Washington also expires later this month. The deadline was announced while Turnbull was in Washington, D.C., at the end of June.
Government House officials, however, did not return phone message left Wednesday asking about the meetings.
A number of senators confirmed Wednesday they have been invited to meet with Turnbull on Friday to discuss the fiscal year 2000 budget; none, however, were aware of the specific content of the meeting.
"All I know is that the invitation highlighted that he wants to meet with us to discuss the budget," Sen. Adlah Donastorg said Wednesday.
Sen. Lorraine Berry said she received a one-sentence memo from Senate President Vargrave Richards notifying her of the meeting.
"I got a memo from the president saying there's a meeting on the budget," Berry said Wednesday. "We'll have to wait until Friday to see what it's about because I don't know anything else."
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole also received the memo.
"I got a letter that says the governor wants to meet with the body about the budget," Cole said. "I don't know what the agenda is."
Richards could not be reached for comment because he is off-island.
Though the news may be bad, Turnbull probably won't announce another payless payday; with three paydays falling during July's slow summer season, many feared the government would not be able to pay its employees on payday for a second time this year.
A source close to Government House, however, said confidently this week that the administration will meet payroll. Reportedly, the Turnbull administration has made an agreement to draw down at least a portion of the $35 million that the Legislature authorized it to borrow if the executive branch could not meet payroll.
An article in St. Thomas Source in June reported Turnbull's financial team has discovered that if the government continues business-as-usual, it will have a $954 million spending deficit within 10 years –about 16 times what is now — and the territory's debt would double to $2 billion.
"The government's fiscal position is precarious and requires immediate action," Margaret Guarino, managing director of the Public Finance Division of First Union Capital Markets, one of the government's advisory groups, said then.
"Eliminating these deficits will require tremendous effort and significant changes in the way the government delivers its services," Guarino said. "But with the proper, well-thought-out financial plan, it can be done. New York City did it. Washington did it. Guam did it."
The governor's financial team includes First Union Capital Markets, Core International Inc., the law firms of Winston & Strawn and Harris, Beech & Wilcox, and officials of his administration.
"If we do not demonstrate that we have the will to implement the changes necessary to help ourselves, that is when the feds would step in," Rudolph Krigger, the governor's special assistant for fiscal policy, said in June. "But I believe we do have the will. But we must demonstrate that."
Turnbull's fiscal 2000 budget, submitted in May, proposed $486 million in spending — $50 million more than the current fiscal year — with a 6 percent across-the-board pay cut for government employees. Turnbull later backed off that pay decrease after union officials raised Cain, but that move merely increased an estimated $50 million gap between spending and revenues.
Federal officials reportedly are demanding deeper cuts in spending before they will help the financially strapped territory.
Turnbull has already ordered several cost-cutting measures, including a strict hiring freeze and a 50 percent cut in overtime costs.
Turnbull will reportedly hold a press conference on the results of this week's various meetings on Monday, July 19.

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