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Cruz Bay
Thursday, June 13, 2024


Sept. 20, 2001 – The Senate Finance Committee took portions of the Fiscal Year 2002 budget through the first hurdle Thursday, passing more than 20 bills and amendments which will now proceed to the Rules Committee on Saturday and, if approved there, to the full Senate for a final vote on Monday and Tuesday.
By 9 p.m., however, the budgets for the executive branch departments had not been acted upon, and the committee was in recess.
Throughout the day, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, the committee chair, was not interested in hearing concerns about the need to rework the budget, given the threat to the V.I. economy of events unfolding in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the mainland. "You can't use the disaster to sabotage the budget," she said at one point, adding that there "are means in place to secure the avenues of our economy."
Fellow majority bloc senator Norma Pickard-Samuel jumped on Hansen's bandwagon, declaring, "Osama bin Laden couldn't stop this budget."
Scheduled to start at 10 a.m., Thursday's session got under way at 11:30. The committee passed 13 bills in one hour, then recessed until 2:30 p.m. Committee chair Alicia "Chucky" Hansen noted on several occasions that the committee and Post Audit staff had been up until 4:30 a.m. Thursday completing the budget markup.
Hansen made good her publicly announced intention to safeguard the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund exclusively for tourism advertising. She did so by amending a bill to allow the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department to dip into the tourism fund to finance the territory's three annual carnival celebrations.
The amendment authorizes giving the department $1.3 million from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund as a grant to fund V.I. Carnival, the St. John Festival and the Crucian Christmas Festival.
Hansen also touted her idea, announced Wednesday and supported by other majority bloc senators, to snag some of the federal government's proposed $24 billion airline bailout for the Virgin Islands. "We have to act now," she announced at Thursday's committee session. She suggested hiring an airline expert to "deal at a national level to make some of these funds available to the V.I." Her idea is to entice travelers to the territory by subsidizing the cost of airfare with the federal funds.
She also mentioned her proposal, announced Tuesday, to take $5 million each from the Transportation Trust Fund and the Land Bank Fund, pass it through the General Fund and donate it to New York City for victims of last week's terrorist disaster. "It would show symbolic support as a sacrifice," Hansen said, "and it will send a message: We're here to support you, though we have so very little."
She also suggested wooing the Puerto Rico tourist market by using subsidies for ferry and airline services to bring back the market St. Thomas once had with day-trippers from San Juan.
The Finance Committee meeting was calm and orderly until Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg brought up the chilling effect the recent terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland and their aftermath will likely have on the V.I. economy. "A round-table discussion on this budget to ward off a possible crisis in the next few months should be considered," Donastorg said.
That was enough for Hansen, who replied that she and her committee and the Post Audit staff had worked for two months to get the budget into its current form. It "will go through," she said. "We are not going to accept defeat. You can't use the disaster to sabotage the budget."
She added, "There are means in place to secure the avenues of our economy."
In a reference to the Fiscal Year 2001 budget, which didn't get to Government House until the end of the 2001 calendar year, Hansen said of the 2002 version, "If we don't deliver it by Sept. 30, the governor will open his bankbook and spend as he wishes. Some senators want to dismiss this budget."
Sens. Lorraine Berry and Emmett Hansen II have written to Turnbull asking him to rework his FY 2002 revenue projections in light of the economic effects the territory is feeling from the terrorist attacks.
Like Hansen and Pickard-Samuel, Sens. Carlton Dowe and Donald "Ducks" Cole agreed the budget must go through, taking jabs at the minority in the thousand-times-told tale of which Senate bloc was responsible for the teachers getting their step increases. The minority walked out of a special session on June 15, when the governor's bill to spend a $100 million tax "windfall" was on the floor. The step increases for unionized government employees were included in the appropriations. The minority left in protest of not being able to question top administration officials about the projected revenues before the bill was put to a vote.
At Thursday's Finance meeting, Dowe and Cole stressed the need to get capital projects up and going. "There's $200 million in federal funds we're not using," Dowe said. He and Cole said the project plans need to be implemented to offset the territory's dependence on tourism revenues. "Instead of focusing exclusively on reducing government spending, we should redouble our efforts to stimulate the economy," Dowe said.
The committee recessed for an hour at 5 p.m., awaiting several amendments being drawn up by the legal counsel for budget bills remaining to be considered. At 7:40 p.m. the meeting resumed, and an hour later another half-hour recess was called; in the interim, the committee wrote a new appropriation for the territorial Public Defender's Office and approved a budget for Territorial Court that includes $400,000 to start a new Rising Stars steel orchestra program on St. Croix similar to the one on St. Thomas.
None of the budgets for the executive branch departments had been acted upon at that point.
The texts of all bills, amendments and dollar amounts as approved were not available Thursday night.
Attending the meeting were all committee members — Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Cole, Donastorg, Dowe, Hansen, Norman Jn. Baptiste and Pickard-Samuel. Non-committee member Celestino A. White Sr. made a couple of brief appearances.

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