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Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Gov. Charles Turnbull on Wednesday vetoed the first two bills submitted to him by the 24th Legislature.
As expected, Turnbull shot down a controversial move to open the books of the West Indian Co. Ltd. The bill would have required that WICO, a semi-autonomous agency, provide quarterly financial reports to the governor and Legislature.
In his veto message to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Turnbull, who as governor chairs the WICO board, said requiring the organization to reveal its finances would expose its operations to cruise industry competition and eliminate its ability to discuss matters of confidentiality.
"The original terms . . . which conferred upon the West Indian Co. Ltd. the status of a public corporation and public instrumentality of the government has worked well for the past seven years," Turnbull wrote. "The company’s greatest asset is its ability to stay ahead of the competition. To change the status of the West Indian Co. at this time would raise substantial practical and financial concerns to a well-run company owned by the Public Finance Authority."
Earlier this month, the eight-member majority bloc of the 24th Legislature, as one of its first acts, passed a measure that would give the Senate full access to financial information about WICO and the PFA. Majority bloc members said the bill is intended to help account for public funds and allow the Legislature to decide public spending priorities.
In a release late Wednesday, Liburd called the governor’s reasoning "unsupportable." He said every other government instrumentality in the nation must answer to its legislature. He said the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t lose competitiveness to Federal Express by reporting to Congress.
"It is a sad day when a super government can exist within our government," Liburd said. "The governor has stated that the people’s right to oversight . . . has no right or power in the Virgin Islands."
Although Turnbull said he agreed with the intent of the second measure, he nonetheless vetoed the bill to issue business licenses for two years and eliminate per diem payments for inter-island travel for certain government employees. He said the per diem section of the bill interferes with the exercise of discretion by the executive and judicial branches of government, but would allow members covered by collective bargaining agreements and members of independent agencies to continue to receive per diem.
"This appears to be discriminatory," he said.
Majority leader Sen. Celestino White said the veto "insinuates" that commissioners and other unclassified employees be treated the same as low-salaried and unionized employees for per diem, which acts like a hidden bonus for certain employees. The majority argued that the per diem exceeds the reasonable cost for a meal and that for the governor to insist that travel between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is an undue burden or hardship is fiscally irresponsible.
"Paying $2 for a hot dog is not an undue burden," White said.
As for the governor’s veto of the business license provision, the majority said the change would have relaxed some of the restrictive burdens now placed on businesses for the sake of a few dollars.
The eight-member majority would need to garner the support of at least two other senators to override Turnbull’s vetoes. Considering the bad blood between the majority and minority blocs, that is unlikely.

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