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DeJongh Nixes WMA User Fee, Other Amendments

Dec. 23, 2007 — Amendments that nixed an environmental user fee by the Waste Management Authority and allowed the Public Services Commission to certify eligible telecommunications carriers (ETC) received the governor's stamp of approval over the weekend, while many other measures — such as amendments that appropriate more money to various programs and organizations — were vetoed.
Most of the amendments were tacked on to a bill that initially authorized the V.I. Water and Power Authority to pay employer contributions to the Government Employees' Retirement System for all of its hazardous-duty employees, including any retroactive amounts. However, after a recent Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting, the bill also contained amendments that place the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute under the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for budgetary purposes only and allows the V.I. police commissioner to employ retired police officers on a "contractual basis," if necessary.
In a letter sent over the weekend to Senate President Usie R. Richards, deJongh said he would be eliminating the phrase "on a contractual basis," which he explained would give the police commissioner more flexibility in attracting and retaining additional police officers.
"The managerial flexibility to broaden our pool of qualified and experienced officers is critical to our community's quality of life," the governor wrote.
DeJongh added that severing the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute (VICHI) from DPNR would have made the agency a "stand-alone entity."
"The enabling statute of VICHI does not provide it with the authority to do all things necessary to succeed in this capacity," he said. "For example, VICHI has very limited authority to enter into contracts. Without such authority, the institute's ability to meet its statutory mandates would be seriously undermined by the suggested amendment."
More amendments were tacked on during a legislative session held earlier this month — several of which were line-item vetoed by the governor over the weekend. However, deJongh did approve certain sections, including a $75,000 appropriation for after-school math and science programs for St. Croix students. While the governor said that while the General Fund is unable to sustain any additional appropriations at this time, he did make note of the fact that V.I. youth are "underachieving" in these study areas.
"Any allotment of this appropriation will be achieved by reducing other appropriations until there is a change in our revenue generation," deJongh explained in his letter to Richards.
In approving the elimination of the environmental user fee, deJongh also said that "meeting federal unfunded mandates in the area of waste management is costly and will lead to the imposition of some form of a fee structure in the future." However, he added that any fee schedule must not "unduly burden" local residents or impact "interstate and international commerce."
The WMA's proposed fee structure, which only got a partial thumbs up from the Public Services Commission, "clearly did not meet these standards," the governor said.
DeJongh added that he would be recommending certain changes to the amendment allowing the PSC to grant ETC status to wireless providers — a measure that would allow companies such as Centennial Communications (whose petition for ETC status has been pending before the PSC for more than a year) to tap into the federal Universal Service Fund and access money that would ultimately bring more cell sites within the territory.
Despite giving his approval, deJongh said that he wants the local law to be consistent with those implemented by the federal government.
DeJongh also vetoed a section of the bill that would have allowed for the construction of a public high school in Cruz Bay, St. John. The governor said the amendment limited the area on which a school can be built, and would therefore have been "inconsistent" with efforts made by the government and Delegate Donna Christensen to "find suitable acreage on St. John for the erection of a public K-12 educational facility."
DeJongh said he would be submitting a bill that would allow for the construction of a high school in an "appropriate" area on St. John.
While deJongh approved portions of a bill allowing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to issue valid identification cards at a cost of $25, he also vetoed, in their entirety, bills that would:
— direct the Department of Property and Procurement to issue requests for proposals for the construction of two government office complexes on St. Croix, authorize the governor to purchase or build or purchase a government complex on St. Croix and appropriate $80,000 to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority for the purchase of property of Estates White Lady and White Bay on St. Croix (in his letter to Richards, deJongh said the General Fund couldn't sustain the $80,000 appropriation);
— require the administration to submit quarterly financial reports to the Office of Management and Budget and the Senate; and
— call for the governor to establish a partnership with Lincoln Educational Services to build a career and technical institute in the territory.
Though deJongh said he supports the idea of setting up a private-public partnership that would result in the creation of a vocational school, he raised some concerns about certain sections of the bill — including one that calls for an annual $6 million contribution from the government to Lincoln Education Services, which would allow for discounted tuition rates for local students (See "Senate Committee Looks at Boosting Vocational Facilities.")
"I encourage the sponsors of this bill to modify this legislation to address these shortcomings and re-submit the revised proposal," deJongh wrote.
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