Jan. 26, 2004 – The red carpet was rolled out, just like last year; the trumpet sounded, just like last year; Gov. Charles W. Turnbull strode into the Senate chambers on the arm of Senate Vice President Lorraine Berry, just like last year. And he delivered his 2004 State of the Territory address, which, in the opinion of many, was just like last year.
Turnbull's sixth State of the Territory address, presented before the 25th Legislature Monday evening, provided no surprises. The 15 senators sat at attention, hoping for some indication of how the governor plans to deal with the fiscal year 2003 budget he put in place last month for all of FY 2004 after vetoing the budget passed by the Legislature. At the end of Turnbull's address, they knew little more than they did before.
The governor did not paint a rosy picture for FY 2004; in fact, he painted hardly any picture at all.
He discussed the same fiscal issues the administration and the Legislature were at odds over for much of 2003. "Because the Legislature appropriated $40 million more than the budget I initially submitted last year," he said, "the level of carryover appropriations for the current fiscal year stands at $607 million. However, because revenues for the coming year are now projected at $580 million, I will exercise my authority and utilize the allotment process to limit spending to actual revenues."
The governor's chief fiscal officer, Nathan Simmonds, had stressed those figures repeatedly in last week's Finance Committee meeting. Turnbull also made clear once again that he wouldn't tolerate any overspending by the Senate. "The Legislature must avoid the temptation to appropriate non-existent funds," he said.
As expected, he addressed an issue that grinds at him — Delegate Donna M. Christensen's proposal before Congress to establish a chief financial officer for the territory for five years, as well as Sen. Lorraine Berry's bill to set up a financial review board — a recent reworking of what she had been proposing as a financial control board.
"As a direct, unfortunate reaction to the fiscal challenges we face, there have been calls from certain members of this Legislature for an appointed financial control board, and from the elected delegate to Congress for an appointed chief financial officer to do what they feel we, the elected officials of the territory, do not have the courage to do," Turnbull said.
"I strongly reject both of these initiatives as reactionary and regressive," he said, with a brief recounting of past political leaders in the territory — "heroes who have toiled for limited self-government." He said: "We can, we must, and we shall do what has to be done ourselves. We do not welcome anyone, or any new entity from inside or outside the Virgin Islands, to do it for us. It is our duty."
The governor addressed the troubled St. Croix economy. He said that under Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards' "One Vision, One Plan" concept, fast-tracking procedures are expediting a number of capital projects on the island, including renovation of the Charles Harwood Medical Facility.
And, Turnbull said, "while we continue to support and work with the developers of the planned Golden Gaming and Robin Bay projects, this year we will issue a request for proposals from all the major national and international hotel chains and developers."
In last year's address, the governor said the planned $500 million-plus Robin Bay resort development and the $150 million Golden Gaming one, both in the talking stage for several years, were "on track and will jump start St. Croix's economy."
Noting that the Police Department "in recent weeks has been the subject of intense negative reports in the print media," Turnbull said: "Let me make it abundantly clear. I stand with, and have full faith and confidence in, the men and women of the VIPD."
"A small but vicious group of criminals, often well-organized in gangs, and usually involved in drug trafficking, have declared war on the general population," he said. "We must and will defeat them." These remarks drew the loudest applause from his cabinet members, who were seated in the chamber well directly in front of him.
Turnbull discussed education, but he avoided any mention of the issue of federal funds which have been returned to Washington without having been spent for the purposes for which they were intended. He commended Education Commissioner Noreen Michael for her progress in moving the territory's four public high schools toward accreditation.
Other areas he touched on included health and Economic Development Commission activities. He did not touch on many others, which senators were quick to point out afterward.
The general consensus among senators after the speech was disappointment.
"I didn't see a glimmer of hope," Sen. Luther Renee, a member of the majority, said. "We have yet to find out specifics on St. Croix's economy. Last year he said the same things about Robin Bay and Golden Gaming." The address "was very weak on the economy, very disappointing, no strategy," Renee added, "and there was no mention of the tax study commission. They last met in April."
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, a member of the minority, said the speech was "a remix; it's just an echo of last January. He didn't address the cruise ships not coming to St. Croix, but he mentioned the QM2 coming to St. Thomas. It's the same old stories on capital projects. I'm not impressed. And then, he attacked the body [the Legislature] with no kind of resolution or solution to problems, especially on St. Croix."
The initial comment of Sen. Emmett Hansen II, a majority member, was: "I can't believe I missed 'American Idol' for this." Turning serious, he charged that the governor "ignored St. Croix's problems. What about the Anguilla landfill? What about airlift to St. Croix? Don't these problems exist? I represent St. Croix. I can't go to St. Croix and tell them anything. He trots out the same capital projects every year."
Hansen said the Charles Harwood project was held up because the government "didn't go with the lowest bidder. I was told it would take too long to bid it the right way."
Further reactions and the full text of the governor's speech will posted in the Source on Tuesday.
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