July 15, 2003 – After two months of seemingly endless debate, delay and indecision, the Senate finally capitulated on Tuesday and authorized Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's $235 million bond issue. But on its own terms.
And the lawmakers repealed the 2-cents-a-pound "environmental user fee" which they had approved last month and the governor had just signed into law on Monday night with recommendations for revisions.
The bond-issue bill taken up Tuesday was not the one voted down in the Rules Committee on Friday (see "Rules deadlocks, fails to approve bond bill") but another Senate-generated version.
While the measure approved Tuesday authorizes the government to borrow another $235 million, as Turnbull wanted, there is nothing in it proving working capital for government operations. The governor's bill had earmarked $100 million for that purpose — the primary source of revenue he had identified for addressing a $152 million deficit projected by the administration for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The bill — proposed by Senate President David Jones and Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Roosevelt David, Emmett Hansen II, Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone and Luther Renee — simply does not address the government's working capital obligations. It specifies that $100 million shall go for income-tax refunds and vendor payments.
The governor also had called for $80 million to fund the construction of a 250-room hotel complex on St. Croix, $20 million to finance private development on St. Croix and $10 million to provide credit enhancement for the financing of the Carifest theme park on St. Thomas.
Gone is the $80 million to develop the resort and conference center, replaced by about $100 million worth of senators' pet projects, including financing for the long-planned cardiac center on St. Croix and cancer center on St. Thomas and $2 million for renovation of the Fort Christian Museum on St. Thomas.
Also included is up to $45 million for St. Croix economic development projects and $20 million to go toward the Government Employees Retirement System's unfunded liability.
Jones had said earlier this month that he was ready to repeal the 2 cents-a-pound "fee" on items imported into or produced in the territory. The measure, passed in special session on June 18, had come in for sharp criticism from the business community, with outraged leaders saying it could put them out of business. Contradicting his own comments in approving the bill, Jones later said the Legislature "cannot support the bill as passed."
Voting on Tuesday for the bond issue bill were Sens. Canton, David, Carlton Dowe, Hansen, Hill, Jones, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Malone and Renee. Voting against were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn Baptiste, Usie R. Richards, Ronald Russell and Celestino White.
The repeal of the 2-cent tax passed with 14 votes in favor and Baptiste absent for the vote.
A detailed account of the Senate session — which was scheduled for 10 a.m., got under way at 3 p.m. and concluded about 10:45 p.m. — will be published on Wednesday.
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