June 12, 2002 The first in a what will be a long series of Senate Finance Committee hearings on the Fiscal Year 2003 budget commenced Tuesday on St. Croix with the territory's top money mangers giving the lawmakers an overview of Gov.Charles W. Turnbull's projected revenues. And much of the picture they painted was optimistic.
Bernice Turnbull, Finance commissioner; Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director; Lauritz Mills, Economic Research Bureau director; and Roy Martin, Tax Assessor, gave a generally optimistic picture of anticipated economic activity for the fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.
Mills cited several capital improvement and tourism-related projects. One was $35 million in private activity bonds the Public Finance Authority issued last month for the Seven Hills Beach Resort and Casino planned for Robin Bay on St. Croix — a project which the PFA has said is expected to improve the island's troubled economy dramatically. Another the Botany Bay development on St. Thomas, pegged at $12 million. Other projects they mentioned included the rebuilding of the Yacht Haven Hotel and two public sector projects — the commercial port at Enighed Pond on St. John and the Red Hook marine terminal on St. Thomas.
According to broadcast and published reports, the Finance Committee chair, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, opposed the idea of a penny-per-pound surcharge on goods proposed to generate an anticipated $20 million in revenue to fund a new Waste Management Authority. The governor wants to create the authority as a semi-autonomous agency charged with handling the territory's continually beleaguered waste systems.
"That's another tax on the people, and I will not support it," Hansen told Mills, who insisted it is a fee, and not a tax. He said the surcharge would be added to all goods entering the territory. He also said the authority would provide infrastructure changes that would attract long-term investment in the territory.
Mills projected total General Fund revenues at $567.7 million for 2003, with 58 percent, or $329 million, coming from gross personal income tax revenue. Willis said the IRB has processed 11,000 tax refunds totaling $18 million within the last two weeks. He said he anticipated the IRB will pay out at least $51.5 million on about 26,000 returns.
Martin said he has not been able to assess all commercial property this year because he lacks the resources. There is a bill in the Legislature now to help fund the Office of Tax Assessor operations and to make the commercial property assessments every other year instead of the annually as it now the case. Martin estimated FY 2003 property taxes at $48.3 million plus another $14 million from Hovensa.
Bernice Turnbull said that the government is owed more than $30 million in delinquent property taxes.
The senators also heard an overview of the territory's multitudinous funds. It was noted that various funds have been raided over the years, and that revenues intended for one purpose frequently go to another. This situation has been a constant bone of contention between the administration and the Legislature. Bernice Turnbull cautioned the senators that much of the money in the various funds discussed on Tuesday already is obligated to specified purposes, such as debt service.
Senators present in addition to the chair, according to Legislature Media Services, were committee members Adelbert Bryan, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Carlton Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste and Norma Pickard-Samuel, along with Sen. Emmett Hansen II, who is not a member, while committee member Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg was not present.
The hearings were to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday on St. Thomas, with the PFA and The West Indian Co. up for fiscal review.
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