July 2, 2003 – Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said on Wednesday that his Finance Committee will open hearings on the 2004 Fiscal Year budget next week with or without Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposed appropriations.
And at the moment, it appears that it will be without them.
By law the governor is required to submit the following fiscal year's proposed budget for the executive branch to the Legislature by May 30. Historically this has been done sometimes and not done other times; the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, and when a new budget has not been approved by then, business continues under the provisions of the previous one.
Turnbull has held off submitting the proposed FY 2004 budget in large part because of unanswered questions concerning the territory's Fiscal Year 2003 deficit and how it so be addressed. In May the governor proposed borrowing another $235 million via another bond issue; the bill passed the Finance Committee last week (with only Donastorg voting in opposition) despite reservations expressed by senators and private sector leaders; it is now before the Rules Committee.
At last count, the administration was predicting a shortfall of $152 million at the end of FY 2003. The governor proposed a number of new and increased taxes directed to the business sector in addition to the bond issue as revenue-enhancing measures; the Senate last month rejected most of them. Turnbull has adamantly resisted downsizing the government work force or the government work week.
Initially all 15 senators told the governor they would not consider the bond issue bill unless and until he agreed to roll back the hefty pay raises he gave by executive order to hundreds of unclassified employees before last fall's elections. His comeback was an offer to impose slight, temporary reductions of 2 per cent to 10 percent on a sliding scale for six months at the most. On Tuesday night he announced that he was implementing that proposal.
Finance Committee FY 2003 budget hearings initially were to have begun in June. Donastorg said in a release on Wednesday that "we are forced to proceed without the governor's budget. We had hoped for something to work with, but in these times of financial crisis, we cannot afford to wait."
He said the budget hearings will open at 10 a.m. Monday and continue through the second week of August. All sessions but one will take place on St. Thomas, he said.
This promises to be a long and frustrating process," Donastorg said. "We continue to look for new revenue sources and creative ways to reduce government spending."
In the meantime, Donastorg said, the government needs to collect what it's owed. "We have millions of dollars on the street," he said. "We can't get a true picture of how much we need to raise and cut until we make a better effort to bring in what we are already owed."
He noted that he also favors "going after taxes" from Economic Development Commission beneficiaries that "fail to comply with the terms of their agreements."
Donastorg did not provide a timeline for officials of the executive branch departments and agencies to testify concerning their budgetary needs and wants for next year. In years past, the first session has been an overview of the government's fiscal outlook provided by top officials of the Finance Department, Office of Management and Budget and Internal Revenue Bureau.
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