April 28, 2003 – The governor and his "financial management team" met on Monday with leaders of unions representing government workers to hear their suggestions on how the territory's financial crisis can be remedied, according to a Government House release.
Last week, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced that the V.I. government faces a deficit of $100 million and could become insolvent by June.
On Monday, representatives of the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix locals of the American Federation of Teachers, Law Enforcement Seafarers Union, United Steel Workers, Police Benevolent Association, the V.I. Licensed Practical Nurses Association, International Association of Firefighters and the Seafarers International Union of Puerto Rico gathered for the meeting.
According to the release, Turnbull asked the labor leaders to offer suggestions for consideration in an upcoming overall plan geared at addressing the territory's cash-flow problems.
Some of those they came up with:
– Establish a fuel-storage tank under the Public Works Department to save the government from having to purchase gasoline from a vendor.
– Initiate a federal programs office to identify federal grants not being realized and ensure that those monies are being used and used adequately.
– Ask Hovensa to earmark three cents out of every dollar to go toward education.
– Raise the head tax on cruise ship passengers coming into St. Thomas.
– Use qualified government employees to make in-house repairs, rather than contracting out work.
Turnbull's recommended initiatives to "rectify the cash balance and correct the structural deficit" cutting government workers back to a 36-hour work week, direct deposit of government payroll checks, and legislative authorization for short-term borrowing, according to the release.
It also said the administration financial team told the union officials that the government "is presently assisting and supporting" private-sector capital projects at the Ritz-Carlton Resort, Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina, Sapphire Village Condominiums, FirstBank Plaza, Home Depot and Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina on St. Thomas; Caneel Bay Resort on St. John; and Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino on St. Croix.
In 1999, in a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of the Interior regarding "fiscal accountability and financial performance standards," Turnbull agreed to submit legislation to bring unionized government workers' "greater bargaining rights" into conformity with federal public labor-relations law. "Recurring General Fund deficits and unfunded current liabilities have, to a significant extent, been aggravated" by such collective bargaining agreements, the MOU stated.
However, three weeks later, an amendment to the agreement signed by Turnbull replaced that portion of the MOU with a watered-down version only stating that "the governor and union representatives are encouraged to pursue, through collective bargaining, reform initiatives to assist in the fiscal solvency of the government of the Virgin Islands."
In Monday's meeting, Turnbull said that "many states and territories" are experiencing an economic downturn and are implementing cost-cutting measures. "Even if we did all that we should have done, we still would be in a downturn," he said.
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