July 11, 2003 – In a move that surprised the other members of the Rules Committee on Friday, Sen. Carlton Dowe abstained from voting on a motion to move the governor's bond bill onto the full Senate floor, resulting in a 3-3 tie that killed the motion.
Senate President David Jones made the motion to move the amended bill onto the Senate floor under a "closed rule," meaning no further amendments could be made to it.
Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Roosevelt David and Jones voted in favor of the bill.
Sens. Lorraine Berry, Louis Hill and Ronald Russell voted against it.
Jones said afterward that although his motion failed, that did not mean the end of the bill, because it did not die in a full Senate session. "This doesn't bode well for us, but I'm hopeful," he said.
The bill still can be special-ordered to the Senate floor, and Jones said he would seek to do this at the full Senate session scheduled for Tuesday.
In its original form as submitted by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, the bill would have approved the borrowing of $235 million on the bond market, $100 million of it for working capital, $80 million to develop a 250-room resort on St. Croix, $20 million to finance private economic development initiatives on St. Croix, and $10 million to finance the Carifest theme park on St. Thomas.
Jones moved to amend the bill to allow gross receipts tax revenues to be used as "additional security for the repayment of loan notes" authorized to finance the construction of a conference center on St. Croix and to finance capitalized interest. The motion was seconded but Hill objected, saying that funding sources were already in place for the conference center.
"I don't see the necessity of using this bond issue for funding the project," he said.
The amendment was approved, 4-3, with Sens. Canton, David, Dowe and Jones voting in favor and Sens. Berry, Hill and Russell voting against.
Jones made a second motion requiring the Public Finance Authority to provide a monthly report to the Legislature on the status of the expenditure of the bonds. Russell objected to this amendment, saying he also was not in favor of the bill. "I don't believe the bond issue we're getting ready to pass is appropriate as it stands," he said.
The amendment also was approved on a 4-3 vote with Canton, David, Dowe and Jones voting for it and Berry, Hill and Russell voting against it.
Canton made an amendment redirecting $85 million of the proposed bond proceeds — mainly the money the governor had wanted for building the hotel on St. Croix — to other interests. The amendment called for breaking down the $85 million for these capital projects:
– $5 million to finance the Cancer Center on St. Thomas.
– $8.5 million to finance the Cardiac Center on St. Croix.
– $4 million to finance the St. Thomas paid parking lot.
– $20 million to the Government Employees Retirement System to fund its unfunded liability.
– $5 million to finance the Housing Finance Authority.
– $4 million to finance the government's share in a partnership agreement with JS Management for the construction of the Carambola Conference Center and a hotel.
– $4 million to finance a paid parking lot in Christiansted.
– $30 million to finance a government complex in the St. Thomas/St. John district.
– $5 million to finance the Bethlehem Historical Cultural Preservation project on St. Croix.
Hill objected to the amendment, calling it "the height of irresponsibility."
This amendment, too, was approved on a 4-3 vote, once again with Canton, David, Dowe and Jones voting in the affirmative and Berry, Hill and Russell voting against it.
After the three amendments were approved, Dowe's decision to abstain from voting to move the bill to the Senate floor under the closed rule caused it to die in committee.
Dowe said he was unwilling to vote for the measure because Jones had stipulated the closed rule, which meant that the Senate minority would not have been able to make any amendments to the bill.
"I had a problem with that," Dowe, a minority member, said. All six of the other committee members are members of the Senate majority.
Jones said what happened was unfortunate. "The old adage 'When two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled' applies to this situation," he said. "The people who get trampled in this case are the government employees."
The Rules Committee also approved, on a 5-0 vote, a bill that would allot 25 percent of the V.I. Lottery proceeds from private gaming contracts into the Education Impress Fund. Canton and Jones were absent for the vote.
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