Sept. 19, 2006 — Senators moved quickly through a set of 20 appropriations bills during Tuesday's full legislative session. The bills, which were all approved, are included in the fiscal year 2007 executive budget and appropriate money from various government accounts to departments, agencies and the General Fund.
While many of the bills passed without argument or objection, others generated some concerns from senators. In particular, Sen. Usie R. Richards said he was opposed to a bill which transfers $5 million to the General Fund from interest earned on debt reserves — a government account which senators said was recently overappropriated by approximately $14 million.
While Richards explained that senators had recently made a move to cut several of the projects slated to be funded through the account, he said that there were still various "long-term initiatives" scheduled for FY 2006 which will be paid for by the debt service reserves.
"Shifting this $5 million means that you will in fact be cancelling those projects you all voted for and promised to the people," he said.
Though debate on the status of the account continued throughout the meeting, the issue was finally resolved after a call was placed to Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills. According to Sen. Ronald E. Russell, Mills indicated money would be available at the beginning of next month to sustain all projects scheduled for FY 2006, along with the $5 million transfer.
Russell said that more funds, needed to cover the account's negative balance, would also become available on Oct. 1.
Since there is currently no money in the account (the Legislature's Post Audit staff during the session said that the fund was currently $5.9 million "in the red"), Richards introduced an amendment to the bill which makes sure that all debt service funds earmarked for projects during FY 2006 remain "available until expended."
During the session, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said he also had concerns about bills which transferred money into the General Fund from two other government accounts — the Union Arbitration and Government Employees Increment Fund, and the Transportation Trust Fund.
White explained that each government fund "has a specific purpose" and should not be used to make contributions to the General Fund — which White called a "bottomless pit."
Adding to White's statements, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said that the Union Arbitration Fund is used to pay "judgment awards" to employees who have filed grievances with the Public Employees Relations Board.
"When an employee wins a judgment, they won't be able to get their awards if there's no money in the fund," Nelson said.
Russell said the fund, which had a balance of $51 million in July, could withstand the proposed $8.5 million contribution to the General Fund. "Funds are created for particular purposes, but as we progress, they aren't used the way they're supposed to because money ends up coming from other sources," he added. "So let's pass the budget now, and when the eventuality comes up that the unions need more money, then we'll give them more money."
When the bill was called up for approval, Nelson, Richards and White voted against it, while Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Craig W. Barshinger, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Shawn-Michael Malone, and Russell voted in favor.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was absent.
All senators present during Tuesday's session voted in favor of the bill transferring $15 million to the General Fund from the Transportation Trust Fund.
Senators also approved bills:
–appropriating money from the Antilitter and Beautification Fund to the Waste Management Authority for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes;
— appropriating money for the operating expenses of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles Fund of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the fiscal year October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007;
–appropriating money for operating expenses of the Business and Commercial Properties Revolving Fund of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the fiscal year October 1, 2006 to September 30, 200;
–appropriating money from the Caribbean Basin Initiative Fund for fiscal year October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007;
— appropriating funds from the Government Insurance Fund for operating expenses of the Department of Finance and the Department of Labor for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007;
— providing for an appropriation from the Health Revolving Fund for fiscal year October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007;
–providing for the lump-sum appropriations from the Indirect Cost Fund for salaries, operating expenses and for other purposes, of the Office of Management and Budget, the Division of Personnel, the Department of Property and Procurement and the Department of Finance for the fiscal year October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007;
–appropriating the sum of $5,000,000 from the Interest Revenue Fund as a contribution to the General Fund;
–providing appropriations from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for the fiscal year October 1, 2006, through September 30, 2007;
–appropriating money for the operating expenses of the Public Employees Relation Board and the Labor Management Committee for fiscal year October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007;
— appropriating funds to the Public Services Commission for fiscal year October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007 for operating expenses;
–providing an appropriation for operating expenses of the Waste Management Authority from the Sewage System Fund of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the fiscal year October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007;
–providing an appropriation for operating expenses of the Department of Public Works and the Waste Management Authority from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the fiscal year October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007;
–appropriating money for salaries for the University of the Virgin Islands for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes;
— appropriating the sum of $4,545,538 from the General Fund to WTJX Public Television System for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007;
— appropriating funds to the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission for the fiscal year October 1, 2006, to September 30, 2007, for operating expenses; and
–honoring and commending Urman Victor Fredericks posthumously for his service to the community, and naming the Red Hook Marine Terminal "The Urman Fredericks Marine Terminal" in his honor.
Senators will take a vote on the remaining FY 2007 budget bills during another session scheduled for Wednesday.
Present during Tuesday's session were Barshinger, Berry, David, Davis, Donastorg, Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Hill, James, Malone Nelson, Richards, Russell and White.
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