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FIGURES ON MAJORITY FUNDING HARD TO COME BY

Aug. 30, 2001 – Almost eight months of repeated requests from the media and minority senators for a listing of the individual and committee allotments to the majority bloc members of the 24th Legislature have gone ignored.
Various government officials, including those in the Finance Department, say the figures must come from Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd. The requests for information have been directed to him.
These figures are public record, and are available, or should be, under the Freedom of Information Act.
In interviews for profile stories published by the Source earlier this year, three majority senators did cite figures for their own allocations — $300,000 or more in each instance:
– Carlton Dowe, Rules Committee chair, said his allotment, including his committee budget, was "about $300,000."
– Norma Pickard-Samuel, Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee chair, said she had a $300,000 allotment for her office, staffing, travel and committee budget.
– Norman Jn. Baptiste, Education Committee chair and secretary of the Legislature, said he had an allotment of "about $250,000" plus $50,000 as legislative secretary and $45,000 to run his committee.
Each non-majority senator received an allotment of $100,000.
Will Jones, spokesman for the recently formed Virgin Islands New Association, which represents the majority of the territory's news media outlets, said the association's view is that "The law is clear that the Legislature is a public body, and its business should be conducted in public, including how it spends taxpayers' money."
Jones, who is managing editor of The Avis, added, "One of the goals of VINA is to ensure that all public agencies, including the three branches of government, follow the law — public documents should be made available upon request, not when a public official decides to release them."
VINA membership encompasses news media professionals from newspapers, radio and television stations, and the University of the Virgin Islands Public Information Office, along with independent writers, editors, photographers and public relations professionals.
Sens. Lorraine Berry and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg have strongly protested the majority's withholding of the information. In her latest letter to Liburd requesting the allotments and a breakdown of the 24th Legislature's overall $16 million budget, Berry said, "The majority's unfair allocation of funds is … hamstringing the work of the minority by doing everything it can to prevent us from functioning."
Berry sent that letter on Aug. 17. She has had no response. Nor has Liburd responded to the Source's most recent request for information. An office aide said Thursday that he is out of the territory until next week.
Donastorg wrote Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull on Aug. 14 requesting a the complete Legislature payroll. He has received no response. Turnbull told the Source that information about the individual senators' allotments would have to come from the Senate President's Office.
Ira R. Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a response to a request for the allotment information, wrote the Source that "while OMB can provide general allotment information for the V.I. Legislature, it is not privy to the 24th Legislature's breakdown of allotment by senator and/or committee." Mills supplied the quarterly allotments for the Legislature budget total of $14.8 million for Fiscal Year 2001.
On Feb. 23, Liburd released each senator's individual staff salaries and a breakdown of central staff salaries for the 24th Legislature. At the time he told the Source that he thought this was all that had been requested of him. He added that he would provide the balance of the information along with individual expenses the senators incurred on a Washington, D.C., trip on Feb.26. On that date, he provided only the Washington trip expenses. He subsequently supplied figures on Senate contract employees but no allotment details.
All Senate committees but two are chaired by majority members. The two minority chairs are Douglas Canton Jr. (Health and Hospitals) and Vargrave Richards (Youth and Human Services). Liburd has said the two minority-chaired committees have budgets of $15,000 each, and the majority-chaired panels have budgets of $30,000.
In August, the governor approved an additional $1.5 million for Legislature operations for the current fiscal year. Of that, $450,000 has gone to the six non-majority senators. That increment of $75,000 each does not include any additional money to committees. Minority senators have said the amount is closer to $55,000 to $60,000 after taxes.
At a Finance Committee meeting last week, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who chairs the panel, responded angrily when she failed to get some information she requested of the Public Finance Authority director, Amadeo Francis. Her comment: "Public information has to go to the public." Hansen is a majority bloc member.
For the lists of budgeting for senators' staff and the allocations to minority senators, see "Minority senators get minor allotment".

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