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Monday, July 22, 2024


Included in legislation approved by a joint congressional committee Thursday for the Department of Interior’s budget is $5.4 million for the Virgin Islands. But the money comes with a caveat that the local government meet performance standards in addressing its fiscal crisis.
The Joint House-Senate Conference report Thursday night provided for the fiscal year 2000 budget for the Department of Interior. Within the conference report is language giving the territory a $5.4 million grant to defray the cost of various court-ordered or mandated construction projects.
The conference bill is a compromise between House and Senate versions. Such bills usually, but not always, win full congressional passage, and then go to the president.
The bill states that the grant is to be released only on condition that mutually agreed-upon financial and accountability performance standards to address the territory's current financial crisis have been developed and are being implemented.
The first part of this condition was met last week with the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Gov. Charles Turnbull and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
"The passage of the FY 2000 Conference Report is a cause for celebration," said Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christensen, "because the $5 million grant is the first installment of a promised multi-year federal grant program from the Department of Interior to help us pay for the almost $100 million in mandated … capital projects, including a new prison, a wastewater treatment facility and several new schools, that we have already borrowed money for."
According to the Turnbull administration, the grant was funded from monies originally allocated to the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands under its compact with the federal government.
In his budget for last fiscal year, President Clinton proposed that the money go instead to Guam. But after meeting with Turnbull last February, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski decided that the money was needed more in the Virgin Islands.
"While the Conference Report still has to be passed by the Senate and go to the president for signature, I want to take this opportunity to thank Sen. Frank Murkowsi and Sen. Slate Gordon, chairman of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee, for fighting on our behalf to ensure that the Senate position with regard to these funds prevailed in conference," Christensen said. "With the signing of the MOU, the way is now paved for us to receive these badly needed funds, as well as the additional funding that is to come in the proceeding years."

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