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Sept. 5, 2003 – At long last, on a road as rocky as the potholes which the bill proposes to mend, Sen. Emmett Hansen II's Infrastructure Maintenance Act is law.
After two vetoes by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and an override that failed in the 24th Legislature, the measure sailed through the 25th Legislature on Thursday on a 13-0 override vote, three more than the 10 votes required. Absent for the vote were Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who was excused from the full two-day session, and Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who was excused Thursday aftenoon.
Turnbull had said in his more recent veto letter that he would not approve any bill which takes money out of the General Fund.
The slightly altered bill calls for 6 percent of property tax revenues to be divided equally into separate funds for street lighting, potable water distribution and road maintenance, with such funds for St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island. In other words, for each island, 2 percent of its property taxes would go into each of the three infrastructure funds for that particular island. The original measure called for allocating 15 percent of the tax revenues.
Alberto Bruno-Vega, Water and Power Authority executive director, has said that once that measure in implemented, the surcharge consumers now pay for street lights will be eliminated.
Obviously pleased at the override, Hansen said on Friday: "The next step is to retain an attorney to ascertain the law is observed, the money distributed. If Ira Mills [director of the Office of Management and Budget, which allocates government funds] doesn't obey the law, and doesn't maintain these funds in a lockbox as stipulated, we will take the government to court. We will sue the government and individuals personally."
The law provide WAPA money for water lines as well as the street lights, Hansen noted..
WAPA has given notice of its intention to seek a temporary 15.2 percent increase in water bills, as part of an eventual permanent increase of 24.2 percent. Hansen said his bill will make that increase unnecessary. "It will subsidize that charge, and bring immediate relief to the people of the V.I.," he said. "I've said all along, if I could have gotten this moved last year, the public wouldn't have been paying the street light surcharge."
Hansen said on the Senate floor on Thursday and again on Friday that the governor's approach to addressing utility problems has been ineffective. "We've tried for five years the governor's way, and it hasn't worked," he said. "Every time we come up with an innovative way to change things, they reject it."
He cited as an example another bill that Turnbull recently vetoed — to transfer property tax collections from the Finance Department to the Internal Revenue Bureau. "The bureau should collect the taxes," he said. "It is our revenue-collecting arm."
He added: "That is another veto we have to override."
Louis Willis, IRB director, has indicated his agency would be willing to do the job, utilizing its sophisticated computer capabilities.
Resolution seeking federal tax assistance
While Wednesday's deliberations dealt largely with nominations and rezonings, the senators on Thursday diversified their efforts in a series of amendments. None involve the appropriation of money — which Turnbull has warned he would immediately veto, the government having no money to allocate.
Senate President David Jones allowed each senator to attach up to two amendments to each of the two bills before the body allocating the territory's 2003 federal Community Development Block Grant money.
The measures approved cover a wide spectrum, one reaching to Washington, D.C. That resolution, proposed by Carlton Dowe, calls on the delegate to Congress to join the 25th Legislature in pursuing $65.4 million from Washington that he says is needed to reimburse V.I . residents in compliance with President Bush's new tax plan. The Senate says that is the amount the treasury will lose as a result of Bush's tax cuts.
The bill specifies several items contributing to the amount asked for reimbursement including $16.3 said to be owed to the V.I. by way of the Child Tax Credit issued under Bush's plan and a $37.2 revenue loss because of withholding tax decreases.
White and Dowe dedicated a lot of time on Thursday calling for their majority colleagues who are heading to Washington for the Interior Department's Investment Development Conference for the U.S. territories on Monday to take the bill along with them. "Drop it on Gale Norton's desk," Dowe said, referring to Interior Secretary Norton, who is hosting the conference. (See "V.I. a major player in investment conference".)
Although White railed at length about the Washington trip, naming the participants and criticizing their expedition, the majority that he led in the 24th Legislature made a trip to Washington, although White elected not to join his colleagues on that sojourn. If the "magnificent eight," as the then-majority dubbed themselves, accomplished anything of substance on that trip, it was never revealed. They hired their own lobbying group, Dutko, although the administration had its own lobbyists. Several members of the current majority claimed on Thursday that the only thing the 24th Legislature majority did in D.C. was attend a barbecue.
Amendments repealing recent tax increases
Also passed as amendments were:
– A bill extending the amnesty on outstanding gross receipt and property taxes until Dec. 31, sponsored by Sens. Roosevelt David and Dowe. The current amnesty expired Aug. 26.
– A bill increasing maximum fines charged to people convicted of possession of stolen property by 25 percent, sponsored by David.
– An amendment to aid small business contractors, also sponsored by David. It would allow V.I. government agencies to accept an irrevokable letter of credit from local banks as a surety bond, so that companies would not need to go to the mainland to secure a surety bond.
Other amendments would repeal recently passed revenue-generating measures which have generated public outcry. White crusaded to do away with six of the recent tax initiatives and increases approved by the Senate at the behest of the governor. He successfully attached two amendments to one CDBG bill that would:
– Repeal an increase in the penalty for two moving violations for drivers caught not wearing seat belts three times within three years to $1,000 from $500.
– Repeal an increase in the maximum fine for drunken driving to $1,000 from $500.
He got another amendment attached to the other CDBG bill that would allow safari taxis to re-register their vehicles which have a seating capacity in excess of what is currently allowed for new vehicles entering the territory. This measure was passed in July, but Turnbull vetoed it.
Not making it to the floor were White's proposals to repeal the increase in the highway user tax (commonly called the road tax) to 16 cents per pound from 11 cents; a personal use tax on the value in excess of $1,000 of items imported into the territory for personal use; the direct deposit of government checks into employees' banking accounts; and an increase in employee contributions to the government's health insurance payments to 35 percent from 27 percent.
Cancer center named for donor-activist
The Senate also approved a bill naming the cancer center under development at Roy L. Schneider Hospital the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute. Kimelman, along with her husband, former U.S. ambassador to Haiti Henry Kimelman, donated $250,000 toward the proposed center in 1985 and pledged much more. Charlotte Kimelman has been active in the community since 1950, notably in Partners for Health, serving as its president for two years.

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