July 19, 2002 The Senate minority flexed its muscle Thursday and refused to join in voting for an override of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto of Sen. Emmett Hansen II's 2001 Infrastructure Maintenance Act of 2001. Two majority members withheld their support as well, as the effort went down to defeat.
The bill — which called for setting aside 15 percent of property taxes each year to fund street lighting, road maintenance and potable water line repair in separate funds for St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island — was passed by the Legislature on a 13-1 vote on June 21, after unanimous approval in the Rules Committee. Turnbull announced on July 6 that he had vetoed the measure.
Hansen II said at the time he was not surprised by the governor's action, given that Turnbull had not responded to his repeated telephone calls and letters. But he also predicted an easy override of the veto, considering the support the bill had in its earlier progress through the Legislature.
On Thursday, the vote was 7 in favor of the override, 6 against and 2 present but not voting, with Hansen II's majority bloc colleagues Sen. Adelbert Bryan voting nay and Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen abstaining. A two-thirds majority, or 10 votes, is needed to override a veto.
"It's politics, not progress," Hansen II said following the vote.
While he was surprised at his colleagues' action, Hansen said, "I don't take this personally. But I don't see how especially the St. Croix senators cannot support this."
Just a few weeks ago, the senators had been in favor of the bill which Hansen saw as a means of giving the taxpayers something for their money. "It would light up our streets, pave the roads," he said. "Unlighted streets lead to the crime, which Carnival Cruise lines said caused them to pull out."
Minority leader David Jones and unaligned Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg were especially vehement in their opposition to the bill Thursday. Jones asked what effect the measure would have on real property tax collection. He said the bill would ultimately result in a "payless pay day" for government employees because property tax revenues already are committed to cover government employees' pay increases.
Jones said, "If the government implements Emmett's bill, you have to cut funding to other departments or raise taxes. The key is to grow the economy, and not have to tap special funds for our obligations." He said he would support the measure if it were to be enacted in Fiscal Year 2004, but said it's too late for Fiscal Year 2003, which begins Oct. 1, with the budget process already under way.
Hansen II retorted, "When the government wants to get something done, they find the money." He showed his colleagues list of projects completed in the current fiscal year including the Magens Bay and Smith Bay Roads on St. Thomas and the Gallows Bay road and three others on St. Croix. He then turned to one of his enduring themes — inequities in government spending between the two districts.
"Note these figures," he said. "While 40 percent of islandwide paving has been completed on St. Croix, 90 percent of road repairs is completed on St. Thomas." Actually, the figures show 90 percent of road repairs on Estate Bordeaux in St. John, and 90 percent of construction of drainage and paving of Magens Bay Road on St. Thomas.
Donastorg took issue with figures Hansen quoted. "I don't want the public to get wrong information," Donastorg said. "His figures are wrong. He said $124,308,829 would be collected. Nowhere is that figure recorded."
Hansen distributed a table showing the $124.3 million as the total projection of taxes which could be collected in FY 2003, with $64.9 million deducted for tax exemptions, leaving $59.3 million in anticipated revenues. His figures show about $9 million of that figure to fund his bill.
Donastorg then produced figures from Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and said she was "irate" at hearing Hansen's figures. Turnbull's figures show $60.8 million in property taxes collected in Fiscal Year 2000, $50.4 million collected in FY 2001, and $19.5 collected as of June for FY 2002, citing a lack of staff as the reason for the low current figure. (Turnbull, in testimony before the Finance Committee on July 12, also said $15.8 million of the $19.5 million collected this fiscal year consisted of delinquent taxes, and that $80 million in past-due taxes remain outstanding.)
Jones said he had changed his mind about the bill after examining Hansen's figures closely. He said the bill isn't feasible because the property taxes are already committed for salaries.
Hansen was particularly upset about his colleagues' failure to support the funding for road maintenance. He noted that Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood, in testimony before the Finance Committee last week, said it appeared that no funds have been budgeted for road repairs for FY 2003. He said the government Road Fund has been raided in the past for other purposes, including the removal of $12 million last year for government employee wage increases.
The long day's session, which went until about 9 p.m., was sparked with lively exchanges among most of the lawmakers, with Donastorg continuing throughout the afternoon to condemn Hansen II's property tax figures.
Echoing Sen. Douglas Canton's reference to "legislative acrobatics" in the session, Hansen II said, "It is acrobatics with some of the clowns present here." He added, "I am not going to be part of this foolishness, and that's that," and left the session.
Voting in favor of the override were Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Carlton Dowe, Hansen II, Norman Jn Baptiste, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino A. White Sr., Voting against were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Bryan, Canton, Roosevelt David, Donastorg and Vargrave Richards. Abstaining were Alicia Hansen and Jones.
Three overrides succeed; another fails
The senators successfully overrode three other vetoes by the governor and turned down one more. Overriden were vetoes of:
– A $175,000 appropriation to repair a road in Anna's Retreat and $277,000 to widen and pave a road in Estate Tabor and Harmony, both on St. Thomas.
– A $700,000 appropriation for operating costs of VITRAN bus service on St. John.
– A $144,483 appropriation to pay prior-year obligations to Lew Henley's Sewage Disposal Services incurred by the Departments of Public Works and Housing Parks and Recreation.
The appropriations total a little more than $1 million, which Turnbull in his veto message said the government doesn't have.
Rejected was an effort to override the veto of a proposal submitted by Dowe to take $206,970 from the Union Arbitration Award and Government Employees Increment Fund to pay Maria Ayala Felix's arbitration award.
In other action, the senators approved bills :
– Naming the Water and Power Authority's Krum Bay power plant on St. Thomas in honor of longtime WAPA employee Randolph Emanuel Harley.
– Naming the St. Croix Casino Control Commission's building on St. Croix the George A. Farrelly Casino Commission Building.
– Naming the pavilion at the Police Department's Patrick Sweeney Headquarters on St. Croix for Cpl. Violet Oretha Damidaux, an officer instrumental in the creation of the pavilion.
– Designating the first week in June as "Virgin Islands Child's Week."
There's a snag with the WAPA plant and police pavilion, however. Neither property is owned by the government, so the Legislature has no authority to name them. The senators asked legal counsel to petition the board of each entity for permission to name the buildings.
Earlier this year, a bill to name the police pavilion for George A. Farrelly was tabled after complaints from police officer
s who said they had not been consulted about the matter and that the structure should be named for Damidaux. Bryan, who had sponsored the bill to name the pavilion for Farrelly, cast the lone vote against naming it for Damidaux.
All senators attended the session, which continued from the afternoon into the night with action on a bill containing numerous amendments.
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