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SENATE REDUCTION BILL SENT BACK TO COMMITTEE

April 9, 2001 — Despite a bid to make his Senate-reduction bill more palatable to his colleagues, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg on Monday instead saw his effort sent back to committee.
Donastorg special ordered his bill to reduce the size of the V.I. Legislature from 15 to nine at Monday’s general session. In an effort to garner support for the proposal, Donastorg amended it by adding language that would direct any savings from the reduction to paying public school teachers.
On the Senate floor Monday, however, senators amended Donastorg’s motion and then voted 8-5 with two absent to send the bill back to the Committee on Government Operations. In a subsequent interview, Donastorg noted that the committee chairman, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, is against reducing the Senate and its budget by 25 percent.
Donastorg said that he had lobbied most of his colleagues for support, but "there are a lot playing games."
Donastorg maintains that his Senate reduction bill could save as much as $12 million per two-year term. That money, he said, could be used to help fund the contract negotiated last December between the Turnbull administration and the territory’s public school teachers.
Donastorg said he has learned that the administration has "run out of funds" and cannot fulfill its obligation. Karen Andrews, the administration's chief negotiator, did not immediately return calls on Monday to comment on Donastorg's claim.
"All that money will be directed toward paying teachers’ step increase and retroactive wages," Donastorg said in a statement Monday. "Once those obligations are met, we can use these funds for incentive programs, hiring new teachers and other projects that benefit our schools."
Although his effort was sent back to committee, Donastorg said he doesn’t believe it is dead, particularly because of the support it received in a binding referendum in last year’s election. Of the approximately 18,000 residents who went to the polls, roughly 87 percent-voted to reduce the size of the Legislature. Of the approximately 15,000 votes to reduce the Senate's size, 12,589 opted for nine senators rather than the current 15. The other 2,826 voters cast ballots for an 11-member Legislature
"I’m still optimistic that it still has some life left in it," Donastorg said. "This is no longer my initiative. This is an initiative of the people of the Virgin Islands."

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