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HomeNewsArchivesCHRISTMAS IN JULY MEETS NOVEMBER SOON COME

CHRISTMAS IN JULY MEETS NOVEMBER SOON COME

July 19, 2002 – The 24th Legislature celebrated Christmas in July on Thursday, spending more than $6 million, much of it money that the administration will say does not exist, in an animated session which didn't break up until about 9 p.m.
Although it's just July, the lawmakers clearly had their minds on November as they put on their election personae, with barbs and jibes flying through the chambers in some instances like misguided missiles, striking anyone handy.
The morning session rejection of an override to the governor's veto of Sen. Emmett Hansen II's Infrastructure of 2001 bill sparked lively debate between Hansen and several of his former minority colleagues as well as the always voluble Sen. Adlah " Foncie" Donastorg.
Throughout the day, some senators injected pet projects into the proceedings like clockwork. Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel wanted to know where her lease was for the old V.I. Hotel, which is to become a veterans' facility. Sen. Carlton Dowe still wondered what was happening with the $18 million in federal road funds which he says has been lying dormant for years. Sen. Adelbert Bryan objected to almost everything brought to the floor, including the Senate's new post auditor, Terry Drake, whose qualifications he questioned repeatedly, although Drake stated that he is a Certified Public Accountant.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd had said the session would end at 5 p.m. and he enforced his three-minute rule, turning microphones off when the clock ran out. But with 15 lawmakers passing judgment on what the agenda listed as five bills, with "objections," "points of order," "personal privileges" and undefined interrupting, the proceedings stretched to about nine hours, not counting time out for lunch.
At 3:30 p.m., the Senate got to the last item on the agenda, a complex bill in itself, further complicated by more than 15 Christmas tree amendments. These ranged from a $5 million appropriation sought by Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. for the government to buy 12 acres of a former St. Croix quarry to a $10,000 bill brought by Sen. Lorraine Berry for the Winfred Lewis-Garfield Nursing Scholarship Fund.
The bill to which the ornaments were attached was introduced to clear up several measures. It calls for:
– Making property assessment by the Tax Assessor's Office every other year instead of annual.
– Creating a special fund to repair the territory's wastewater system in compliance with a December 2001 District Court order.
– Depositing $4 million from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund into the Special Projects/Wastewater Systems Repairs Fund.
– Appropriating $2.7 million from the General Fund to the Police Department for hiring officers and a psychologist, and for purchasing and maintaining police vehicles.
– Appropriating $700,000 from the General Fund for the V. I. Housing Authority for police force expenses.
– Appropriating $100,000 to the Human Services Department — $50,000 for Bethlehem House on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and $50,000 for the Women's Coalition on St. Croix.
Some senators urged caution about the seasonal spending spree. Sen. David Jones, always an advocate of economic development, said, "We seem to be spending lots of money, but … we must make every effort to spur economic growth."
Toward that end, he and Berry offered an amendment to grant a 30-year tax exemption for hotels or other tourism-related projects on St. Croix making a minimum investment of $100 million, to be available for not more than five years after enactment. Legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes said the amendment needed more definition, but it nonetheless was passed.
Pickard-Samuel noted, "We are spending, spending, but doing nothing to generate revenue."
Donastorg proposed transferring $100,000 from the General Fund to the Housing Parks and Recreation Department for the second annual Julian Jackson Amateur Invitational Boxing Tournament. Retired boxing champion Jackson sat patiently throughout the long session with some youngsters, awaiting the outcome of the amendment, which passed.
Other sports and youth-related amendments included proposals from Dowe, Donald "Ducks" Cole and Celestino A. White Sr. to fund travel for the Housing Parks and Recreation Department's Little Leagues and the Biddy, Pony and Senior Leagues, and for the V.I. Champion Little League team to travel to Mexico for tournaments.
Sen. Roosevelt David sponsored an amendment to provide financial education programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Donastorg also proposed $20,000 to Housing Parks and Recreation for V.I. Winter Olympics athletes to participate in the Junior Olympics Exchange program.
Other amendments included appropriations of:
– $250,000 to build a police substation in Coral Bay, St. John.
– $200,000 to the Public Works Department to repair a retaining wall in Estate Contant.
– $300,000 to the Office of the Adjutant General to establish a Homeland Security Office. Once established, proponents say, it could be the repository of federal funding.
– $20,000 for the Father's Day expenses of the Committee for the Betterment of Carenage.
The bills and amendments go now to Government House, where many are likely to live a short life before succumbing to the governor's veto pen.
Senate action was back on St. Croix on Friday, where the Finance Committee continued Fiscal Year 2003 budget hearings with testimony from Territorial Court and the Office of Inspector General and updates from the St. Croix marine industry and the Crucian Christmas Festival.

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