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HomeNewsArchivesGovernor Signs Retroactive Wage, Court Administration Bills Into Law

Governor Signs Retroactive Wage, Court Administration Bills Into Law

Dec. 23, 2007 — Bills that pay off a portion of the retroactive wages owed to government employees and sever the administrations of the V.I. Supreme and Superior courts got the governor's stamp of approval this weekend.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed the bills into law, along with seven other measures passed by the Senate during a recent legislative session.
The retroactive wage bill has been heavily touted over the past few weeks, with bill sponsors Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Usie R. Richards calling it an innovative way to help settle some of the government's old debts. DeJongh echoed these sentiments in a recent letter to Richards, saying the issue of paying off the wages — estimated to total around $400 million — has often been discussed by politicians over the years but never addressed.
"Thus the passage of this legislation is a significant milestone," deJongh wrote. "However, it is only the beginning of the process. I will work toward goals of this measure and implementing other phases as may be appropriate and fiscally prudent to continue to work toward a resolution of the retroactive-wage issue."
The bill hinges on $45 million from the insurance guaranty fund, which would be secured by a letter of credit obtained from a local bank. Each year, five percent of the gross premium receipts tax paid on every insurance policy in the Virgin Islands is deposited into the fund, a pool of money that can be tapped into only if an insurance company registered to do business in the territory becomes insolvent and cannot pay its claims.
If such an emergency does occur, the $45 million letter of credit will be used as a loan, and will be repaid by the local government. To secure the loan, senators have pledged funds paid to the government each year by the West Indian Co. Ltd. (See "Senate Bill Would Pay Down $45M in Govt. Wages Owed")
In his letter to Richards, deJongh said he was "reluctant" to sign off on a bill that makes clear the separation of the V.I. Supreme and Superior courts — a measure that has generated heavy concerns for Chief Supreme Court Justice Rhys S. Hodge. In recent Senate hearings, Hodge said the bill would "nullify" the unified structure of the judicial branch and drop another $1.9 million worth of expenses on the court's shoulders. (See "Judges Disagree About Implications of Court-System Proposal.")
In his letter to Richards, deJongh said he is concerned the bill would render the Supreme Court unable to "prescribe the rules of civil and criminal procedure." However, he said the measure does give the court some extra money for operations, raising its fiscal year 2008 budget from $1.5 million to $3 million.
"I ask both courts to continue to dialogue with each other to resolve their issues as they arise …," deJongh added. "The Congress delegated the establishment of a system of courts to the territory, and we should exhaust all efforts to develop our own courts."
Other bills approved by deJongh over the weekend:
— prohibit non-accredited colleges and universities from setting up shop in the territory;
— transfer the collection of real-property taxes and public-user fees from the Department of Finance to the Internal Revenue Bureau;
— establish the Office of Highway Transportation revolving fund to hold federal funds awarded to the Department of Public Works under the Federal Highway Stewardship Agreement;
— transfer the V.I. Energy Office from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to the Office of the Governor;
— call for quarterly and annual financial reports to be prepared for horse races held throughout the territory;
— call for quarterly and annual profit-and-loss statements to be prepared for automobile races held in both districts; and
— posthumously honor Emile "Gravy" Henderson and rename the recreation courts located at No. 2 Lagoon Street in Frederiksted, St. Croix, the Emile "Gravy" Henderson Jr. Sports Courts.
DeJongh also acknowledged resolutions passed by the Senate that authorize the governor to appoint a task force to re-negotiate the agreement between the government and Hovensa and bestow the V.I. Medal of Honor on Donald C. Nelthropp Sr.
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