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HomeNewsArchivesFYI FROM SEN. RONALD E. RUSSELL

FYI FROM SEN. RONALD E. RUSSELL

The following material is being published, unedited, exactly as it was received via e-mail from the office of the government official named, as a Source community service. Government office holders wishing to contribute to the FYI bulletin board must e-mail source@viaccess.net. The Source reserves the right to choose what is published.

BUDGET VETO – DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP SCHISM

One of the most important functions of the Virgin Islands Legislature is to annually review the Executive Budget and pass a balanced budget. The policy statement supporting this function is clearly spelled out in 2 V.I.C. § 19 (2003). This policy statement provides detailed information and establishes clear guidelines for the governor and the legislature to follow. In addition to this policy statement, section 21 of Title 2 delineates the responsibilities of the legislature concerning the budget. The law states that the legislature shall:
(1) Consider the program and financial plan recommended by the Governor including proposed goals and policies, recommended budget, revenue proposals, and proposed long-range programs plans.
(2) Adopt those programs and alternatives to the plan recommended by the Governor that it deems appropriate.
(3) Adopt legislation to authorize the implementation of a comprehensive program and financial plan.
(4) Provide for a post-audit of financial transactions, program accomplishments and execution of legislative policy direction.
For the purposes of this commentary please accept that the 25th Legislature and the Executive complied, it their own way, with the provisions of subsections 1, 2, and 3 stated above. Consider that members of the 25th Legislature met with the Governor’s financial team on several occasions to get consensus regarding the 2003/2004 budget. Additionally, members of the 25th legislature also held important meetings with the private sector, labor leaders and other individuals. Before these meetings, the finance committee held hearings with the various entities of the government affected by the executive budget. These hearings and meetings were very important because it provided the avenue for the 25th legislature to gather information, data and opinions to support the crafting of a budget as stated in subsections 2 and 3 of section 21.
The facts to date are: a) the executive budget submitted to 25th Legislature after budget hearings and on or about September 30, 2003; b) the 25th Legislature passes a balanced budget on or about November 23rd 2003; and c) the Governor vetoes the entire budget on or about December 23rd 2003. By vetoing the budget sent by the 25th Legislature, the Governor determined that a lump sum budget better suits the needs of the people of the Virgin Islands. Indeed he has negated all of the work and effort put into the budget by the members of the legislature. Significant to the veto is the adoption of the revenue generating measures crafted by the legislature. In other words the revenue measures that we did not include are fine but the spending plan is not acceptable. Also recall that it is the outrageous spending of the Governor and the 24th Legislature that led to the lump sum budget and the excessive borrowing.
Now consider the economic, social and political conditions of these islands, particularly St. Croix. St. Croix is suffering from double digits unemployment figures. Businesses are closing and several have closed within the last 5 years at alarming rates. People are leaving St. Croix in droves to find work elsewhere. There are no cruise ships and no airlines that bring in large numbers of visitors. Living conditions data indicate that many people on St. Croix live in poverty and for children the numbers are critical. Health, Education and Public Safety are barely surviving when compared to jurisdictions of similar size in the United States. The dedicated professionals and employees of these agencies keep them alive.
St. Croix is divided into various social groups and the negative elements of our community feed and cultivate detrimental divisions to promote their own interests. Casino gambling has replaced several social activities and events. Visiting the beaches as a social activity or for leisure or entertainment threatens your health. Sewage problems continue to plague the island. The socio-economic conditions of St. Croix are in deep crisis.
In the last election, Crucians elected a democratic team to bring The island out of the malaise it has been experiencing. To my dismay and to the detriment of the residents of St. Croix and on a smaller scale to the entire territory the team has faltered miserably.
(Imagine a basketball team in the final minutes of a tie game. The point guard is advancing the ball up the court, he looks at his team mate,
signaling him that he is getting ready to pass the ball to him. In that instant he passes the ball to a member of the opposite team who scores the winning basket!)
The recent budget fiasco clearly demonstrates that the executive is more interested in playing politics than meaningfully solving immediate problems and utilizing proper planning and implementation to help St. Croix and the territory. At this juncture, the options are: 1) strict legislative control through a new line item budget along with strict monitoring of its implementation and spending; or 2) a financial control board as determined by the legislature and selected by the judiciary; or 3) a CFO as promoted by our Delegate to Congress.
The executive demonstrated that power corrupts and that it cannot be trusted or relied on to do what is in the best interest of the people especially on St. Croix. Remember that the initial budget as sent down by the Governor called for "Republican type draconian measures" designed to further cripple the territory, while sill maintaining unreasonable pay raises during supposedly hard times. Also remember that education was neglected while the IGF remained intact for the benefit of the insurance companies. A year of information and questionable actions in the executive leads me to conclude that the team was a means to an end and after elected the Governor’s true colors are being shown brightly. It is for the reasons stated above that one of the three options must occur if we are to survive and preserve our integrity as a people. Whichever comes first I will embrace and put my full support and effort to make a reality.

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