Aug. 25, 2003 – At the governor's request, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee announced on Monday that he has called off this week's scheduled wrapup sessions on the Fiscal Year 2004 budget, moving the Tuesday and Wednesday hearings to Sept. 23 and 24.
In a letter dated Aug. 22, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull asked Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to delay the budget overview sessions "until the Fiscal Year 2004 Executive Budget has been submitted to the Legislature."
By law, the executive branch is required to submit its annual budget by May 31. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
This year, Turnbull had said he would not submit his proposed budget until the Senate acted on the package of bills he proposed to address the territory's fiscal crisis. The governor called for a number of new and increased taxes, most of which were rejected by the Legislature. But the lynchpin of his fiscal recovery plan was the borrowing of another $235 million on the bond market, which the Senate did approve last month.
Donastorg announced on July 2 that his committee was going to begin FY 2004 budget hearings the following week with or without the governor's proposed budget. And that he has done, with all departments, offices and agencies making their own pitches for funding. Most of them, despite the government's fiscal straits and in the face of across-the-board 10 percent reductions imposed in February, asked for more money than they were appropriated this fiscal year.
The remaining wrapup sessions are for the administration's chief financial officials to appear before the committee to testify concerning revenue and expenditure projections in the executive branch budget.
The governor pledged in his Friday letter to have his proposed budget to the Legislature by Aug. 31.
"I hope that you will agree that it would be more beneficial and meaningful for the Finance Committee to conduct the budget overview hearings … after the budget and its supporting documentation have been submitted to the Legislature and the senators have had some opportunity to review it," Turnbull wrote to Donastorg.
In his Monday response, Donastorg told the governor he had decided "after much consideration" to grant the request. "However, it is with a great deal of trepidation," he said, "as by law the executive budget is to be submitted no later than May 31."
Noting that he had, beginning last January, "issued several reminders regarding the importance of submitting the budget in a timely manner," Donastorg said the three-month delay was "entirely unacceptable."
But he also told the governor that "I look forward to reviewing the Fiscal Year 2004 executive budget proposal."
The rescheduled hearings will leave six days, counting the weekend, for the Finance Committee to mark up the budget and for the full Senate to act on it.
Should the current fiscal year end without a budget in place for the one to follow, funding would continue at the level of appropriations for the year just ended. However, numerous agency heads appearing before the Finance Committee in the last six weeks testified that they have yet to receive their allocations for the fourth quarter of FY 2003, which began on July 1.
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