June 27, 2006 – Sections cut from a recent supplemental budget bill by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull have been restored and are now law, as senators voted to override four line-item vetoes during a full Legislative session Tuesday.
Three of the overrides call for appropriations which would help to pay retroactive wages owed to unionized government workers, including:
–$110,076 to United Steel Workers of America enforcement officers at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Health Department.
–$308, 885 to members of the International Association of Firefighters Support Staff.
–$24,490 to members in a variety of unions representing, among others: physicians at the territory's two hospitals, industrial workers, government workers and seafarers.
In a letter sent to Senate President Lorraine L. Berry in May, Turnbull called the appropriations a "piecemeal" approach to solving the retroactive wage problem, which would cause "upheaval" among the collective bargaining units. He said that the development of a comprehensive plan to address retroactive wages for all unions would be more effective.
Furthermore, Turnbull said the amount owed to the steelworkers is actually $72,864.
After Tuesday's session, however, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson called Turnbull's objections "flawed" and "erroneous."
"It makes more sense to take small bites out of the retroactive wage debt instead of paying everything all at once," he said.
He explained that prior to the appropriations approved during the session, the government's retroactive wage debt totaled approximately $400 million. "Some of them go as far back as 1993-1994," he said. "Additionally, if the governor wanted to have a comprehensive plan, then why didn't one come forward during the eight years he was in office? I don't think there was ever any plan to address the wages."
Nelson – who called for the appropriations to be added to the supplemental budget bill while it was being considered by the full Senate in May – also said that the V.I. Code mandates any excess revenues realized by the government be put toward outstanding debt, which includes the retroactive wage payments and contributions toward the more than $1 billion unfunded liability currently plaguing the Government Employees Retirement System.
Senators also restored another provision in the budget–originally vetoed by Turnbull– which amends the V.I. Code to limit the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs from conducting more than one annual inspection on taxi vehicles in the territory. Previously, V.I. law had mandated that inspections be conducted twice a year.
All 15 senators were present during Tuesday's session.
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