Following is a statement of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands on the Omnibus Bill for Fiscal Year 2003:
For all the very many years that the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands has reviewed and commented on the proposed executive branch budgets and the more often than not accompanying Omnibus Bill wish lists, this year may well be the most difficult.
The Omnibus Bill reflects the thinking and actions of a Legislature which does not have a clear definition of its own role and its related powers. By proposing appropriations which by their nature establish policies, the senators infringe on the role and related powers of the executive branch.
To appropriate funds specifically for particular vendors or employees for services and contracts not included in the proposed executive budget for Fiscal Year 2003 is not the function of the Legislature. Furthermore, to suggest funding sources for these purposes already committed to the Fiscal Year 2003 executive budget appropriations is, at best, careless.
In the executive budget document for each fiscal year, funding is included to meet personal services for government employees. The League is startled to find included in the Omnibus Bill salaries for employees of non-profit, non-government organizations. Such precedent setting is frightening.
Included in the Omnibus Bill are 16 positions for professional staff at Juan F. Luis Hospital at a cost of approximately $1.5 million to be funded from the General Fund while the cost of the fringe benefits of at least $450,000 is not addressed. Again, this is not an executive proposal. Is the staffing of a hospital now a legislative function? Wasn't it the intent of policy and statute, to date, to grant the hospitals full autonomy? Isn't the legislative proposal to create and fund positions retrogressive? What realistic plans exist for true autonomy for the hospitals?
Who proposes such measures to a senator or senators? Are executive policies and procedures so ill-defined or so convoluted as to create the need for other avenues to solve administrative problems?
Adequate funding for the implementation of the plans to extend the jurisdiction of the Territorial Court has not been available for the last 10 years. Perhaps an appellate court would be beneficial to the territory, but where is the adequate funding for such a project? The Omnibus Bill seeks to use the Industrial Development Fund and the Insurance Guaranty Fund, but these funds are already committed in the proposed budget estimates and are essential to balancing the Fiscal Year 2002 Budget — essential, in fact, to the very operations of the V.I. government. Further, the League wonders how an appellate court is germane to industrial development or to the insurance guarantees to the people of the Virgin Islands?
When will the government of the Virgin Islands shelve its crisis-to-crisis management style? When will financial planning based on reality be the base for decision making, for the preparation of budget proposals from the executive branch and for the commitment of resources in the best interest of the whole community?
The Legislature, by its action in voting up the Omnibus Bill without regard for the revenue projections of the executive branch, has dumped the responsibility for fiscal integrity squarely in the lap of Government House. The league of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands urgently pleads for the judicious application of the veto power.
Editor's note: Erva A. Denham is the president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands.
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