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Senate Synopsis: May 31-June 3

June 5, 2005 — The Economic Development Commission is like a 400-pound iguana in the halls of government that no one can ignore.
A Senate hearing on Wednesday looked at ways the Legislature might modify the EDC program to make it less susceptible to abuse. On Thursday legislators looked at what some of them consider one such abuse: granting EDC benefits to Innovative Telephone Company. Then on Friday, Sen. Lorraine Berry released a letter she had sent to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow regarding federal legislation enacted this past April that will close many EDC loopholes. In her letter, Berry states: "What I do not understand is the passage of a law that has such a devastating economic impact on the United States Virgin Islands, yet every plea for understanding and reconsideration has not yielded any adjustment in Treasury policies." She writes that the new regulations are not only chasing EDC companies from the Virgin Islands but also forcing "snowbirds" to sell their homes here and move back to the states. (See "FYI: Senate President Lorraine L. Berry").
The week started with the Memorial Day holiday and then:

Tuesday, May 31
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas
The Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee, chaired by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg Jr., discussed the rift between the V.I. Water and Power Authority and the Public Services Commission.
Responding to questions by Donastorg, PSC Chairman Valencio Jackson said the PSC board was not satisfied with WAPA's efforts to reduce line loss.
However, under questioning by Sen. Liston A. Davis, WAPA Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega said WAPA spent "a quarter of a million dollars" to evaluate existing generators in order to find out how the utility can be more efficient. On the issue of considering recommendations by the PSC, Bruno-Vega told senators that some of the recommendations are taken into account and others were not.
Bruno-Vega told Sen. Louis P. Hill that WAPA does not make a profit because surplus funds are reinvested into WAPA's infrastructure. Responding to a question from Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Bruno-Vega stated that one of the most pressing issues facing WAPA was to supply St. Croix with an adequate water supply.
In response to Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson's concerns regarding the combative relationship between the PSC and WAPA, WAPA board member Roy Anduze said the cause of the tension was that both entities receive different information. According to Anduze, consultants to the PSC provide them with wrong information. However, PSC Chairman Jackson disagreed with Anduze saying that the PSC receives information directly from the WAPA board.
The above information came from a legislative news release. Michelle Dominique wrote the story for the Source (See "Senate Probes Squabbles Between PSC and WAPA").

Wednesday, June 1
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas
The Committee on Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection received testimony on revising provisions of the Economic Development Program. Invited to testify were Frank Schulterbrandt, CEO of the Economic Development Commission; Benjamin Rivera, executive director of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce; Louis Willis, director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue; David Nissman, CEO of Bridge Capital; and attorney Marjorie Roberts. (See "Senators Hope Revising EDC Will Save It").
The committee's consideration of two major Coastal Zone permits was postponed.

Thursday, June 2
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas
The Committee on Government Operations again turned to the EDC program. This time the committee focused on the EDC's decision to give benefits to Innovative Telephone. The program is designed to support companies bringing new jobs and investment to the territories. Senators pointed out that it appeared Innovative was taking money from the Virgin Islands and investing it elsewhere. They also questioned whether Innovative really complied with EDC rules during its 40-year history of participation in the program.
During the hearing, concerns were raised that EDC board member Mary Pickard no longer lives in the territory. Additionally, it was revealed that the legislators may be preparing to pass legislation to stop Innovative from getting the benefits. The recommendation on Innovative by the commission is now before the governor. (See "Senators Fume Over Tax Benefits for Vitelco").

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Friday, June 3
The senators took an educational tour of the V.I. National Guard facilities on St. Croix. They learned about what the National Guard does and why it needs funding. The tour was led by Adj. Gen. Eddy L. Charles.(See "V.I. National Guard, Other Agencies Plead for Funding").
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