Sept. 19, 2002 – Although he said it belongs in the hands of the judiciary, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed into law on Wednesday a provision in the Omnibus Act of 2003 which effectively kills binding arbitration agreements required as a condition of employment by several local employers, including Hovensa.
Turnbull signed the Omnibus Act and the Fiscal Year 2003 budget bills, approving the $490 million executive budget, along with $29.1 million for the University of the Virgin Islands, $16.5 million for the Legislature, and $23.7 million for the Territorial Court and Judicial Council. He advised Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd of his action in a letter that was faxed to the Source after midnight.
He also approved the 2002 $1.9 Community Development Block Grant allocations, which cover a myriad of projects, and several rezonings.
Both print daily newspapers had carried full-page advertising pro and con about the arbitration bill. Hovensa's ad urged the governor to veto the bill, calling the provision "legally flawed." Proponents of the measure subsequently took out their own ad calling the provision illegal.
The governor cut the Omnibus bill by about $13 million in line-item vetoes, including a $2.5 million appropriation for the creation of an appellate court. The Senate originally had bid for a territorial supreme court but in an amendment changed it to an appellate court. Turnbull said he supports the creation of the court, but the idea needs public hearings. "It shouldn't be done in a vacuum," he told Liburd.
He item-vetoed a bill which would have reprogrammed tobacco funds for the creation of a cardiac center at Juan F. Luis Hospital. He said he had been advised by bond counsel that "this unilateral change in the tobacco bond authorization could violate the terms of the indenture and constitute an event of default." Several minority senators has raised concerns about reprogramming the funds.
In November, the Public Finance Authority floated $21.7 million in bonds backed by the territory's share of the national tobacco settlement proceeds with the money earmarked for specific purposes; the Luis portion is for renovating an emergency room and clinic, improving the cardiac care unit, and building a new warehouse, water line and air conditioning system for the morgue.
Once again, Turnbull scolded the senators for their "spending spree," which he said "threatens to over-appropriate the funds of the government before it addresses the most basic of needs."
He also vetoed the creation of a new Youth Affairs, Sports and Recreation Department, which would consolidate certain activities now overseen by various agencies, saying it is "fatally flawed." He noted that he had proposed a similar department, himself, in his reorganization plan, but that his proposal tried to reduce the size of government, not inflate it. That plan, which didn't pass Senate muster, also called for putting all government housing operations under one umbrella.
The Senate can override any of the governor's vetoes with 10 votes.
The Source will have a full account of the governor's actions on the bills later in the day.
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