Sept. 23, 2004 — The House of Representatives approved a bill that, if passed by the Senate, would put a non-elected official in charge of the V.I. finances.
The legislation, approved late Wednesday, was introduced by Delegate Donna M. Christensen, who said the bill is necessary to stop mismanagement of the territory's dwindling funds.
More than $1 billion in debt and projecting more budget deficits, the territory is on the brink of financial collapse, Christensen said.
"We don't even know where a lot of our money goes. This is what's been happening and it's happened for as long as I can remember," Christensen said.
Both Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, which the House approved unanimously.
"The Congressional representatives were very, very supportive, both Republicans and Democrats," Christensen, a Democrat, said Thursday.
Gov. Charles Turnbull, who has spoken out against the bill since it was introduced to Congress in November, said the legislation threatens the territory's self rule and is a return to colonial mentality.
"Specifically, this legislation creates an effective 'financial czar' who will not be accountable to elected officials or to the people," Turnbull said. "This is unacceptable in a democratic society."
Christensen said, "I think something like this needed to be done. It's been about a year since we introduced it, and in that time there's been nothing else that has come forward. I think this can accomplish what it is that we want to accomplish in terms of staying within our revenue limits and staying legal in spending, using a balanced budget."
She added, "To the extent that the governor and the Legislature utilize this person he can be of great value because of his independence and his expertise. He could help them in making some tough decisions."
The bill would create a financial officer with veto power over all V.I. government spending. The law would automatically end after five years, at which point the federal government could choose to again sign it into law or not.
Though condemned by Turnbull and territorial legislators, the bill has not diminished Christensen's popularity in the territory. She easily defeated a challenger to her Congressional seat in a Democratic primary held last month.
It was not clear when the bill would go before the Senate. However, Christensen said she has already started work to get it passed in the Senate and has confirmed support from a couple Senators.
She explained, "It will be tougher getting the bill through the Senate than the House, since I am not a senator. There are a lot of procedural things that don't occur on our side, and we're at the end of the year. There is a slight possibility there will be a lame duck session because there are so many appropriation bills not done."
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