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TURNBULL CONFIDENT STEP MONEY WILL BE THERE

June 18, 2001 – The territory's financial picture is looking up, and the $30 million just allocated to bring unionized government workers on step can be sustained as long as tax money keeps rolling in, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
He said the $100 million in appropriations earmarked for step increases, school repairs and other purposes that the Senate approved Friday is the result of both cost-cutting measures and an increase in tax revenues.
"Cost-cutting measures, along with others too numerous to mention, put this government in a position in which expenditures did not exceed revenues for the first time in about 15 years," the governor said. "It is because of this fiscal discipline and the increase in revenues that I will be able to deliver on my promise to begin the long-overdue implementation of step increases for government employees during the coming fiscal year."
During the press briefing at Government House on St. Thomas, Turnbull offered an explanation of sorts to the members of the 24th Legislature who are not a part of the majority — which passed his bill Friday after the other seven left the Senate chambers to protest the vote being taken without a hearing on the measure. The governor noted that he had met with the majority last Monday but said did not have time to meet with minority members.
He said he contacted two minority senators but declined to name them. Any governor must work with the Senate majority, regardless of political affiliation, "because the majority controls the Legislature," he said.
"Here in the Virgin Islands, when times are bad, elected and appointed officials of government must all share the blame," he said. "Likewise, when conditions improve, there is more than enough room for all elected and appointed officials to take credit."
While some union leaders have been skeptical that the funding source for the step increases will be reoccurring, Turnbull said he would not have directed the increases if the money was not there.
"When my financial advisors presented me with the current financial projections and indicated to me … that this government would be able to sustain step increases to government employees and retirees, I decided it was the appropriate time to keep this administration's commitment to implement these increases as soon as it became feasible," he said.
He later stated there is no dedicated funding source to ensure union members will continue to see the step increases for years to come. However, he said, based on his financial advisers' projections, the money will be there if the tax money keeps rolling in.
"I can't bring you the money for 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and on down the line," he said. "But we can sustain these increases, and these people have been suffering for a long time. Our government employees' morale is down. We've got to do something about our government employees."
Turnbull was asked whether he would veto the Senate majority's vote to increase the budget for the Legislature itself by $1.5 million plus another half million for building repairs — allocations tacked on as amendments to the governor's bill Friday. He said he would review the measure and then make a decision. He earlier vetoed a similar measure passed by the Legislature in April, saying the Senate had "sufficient" funds.

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