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Tuesday, September 27, 2022
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Rules Committee Plows Through Budget Bills

The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee amended and approved 31 bills Wednesday, including an unfunded $40.5 million appropriation to the Government Employees’ Retirement System for increased pension contributions the government agreed to in years past but never paid.
The bill ostensibly appropriates $4 million a year for each of the next 10 fiscal years to pay off what GERS estimates to be the sum of the unpaid past contributions. While neither the first year’s $4 million installment nor those for subsequent years are funded, the bill does fund a $500,000 appropriation to GERS to verify what wages are owed to whom and to cover GERS administrative costs. Those costs are funded by a reduction in another appropriation.
Many of these now-retired employees worked their whole careers at relatively low salaries, said Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, one of the bill’s sponsors. "They should not have to go to the grave never receiving what was promised them," Dowe said. "The government has a responsibility to make payment."
Should funding not materialize, the bill explicitly states GERS will not be held liable.
"GERS has nothing to do until or unless the government makes a payment to them," Dowe said.
During committee hearings on the bill in August, Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb testified there was little or no likelihood of finding a way to fund the first year’s contribution without cutting $4 million already appropriated elsewhere.
The bill passed unanimously and was forwarded on to the full Senate for a final vote. Voting yea were Dowe, Sens. Neville James, Usie Richards, Patrick Sprauve, Sammuel Sanes, Celestino White and Michael Thurland.
The committee also passed this year’s omnibus budget bill, after approving a slew of small, specific new appropriations, ranging from $5,000 to Tourism for St. Croix’s annual Caribbean Pig Roast Festival to $115,000 for the V.I. Basketball Federation.
Other funding bills approved Wednesday appropriated:
— $19.8 million to fund the operations of the V.I. Legislature;
— $70.8 million from the rum excise taxes in the Internal Revenue Fund for principal and interest payments on government bonds;
— $14 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to make payments on bonds of the V.I. Public Finance Authority;
— $34.7 million from several government funds to the University of the Virgin Islands Fund for UVI operations;
— $27.8 million from the General Fund to the V.I. Waste Management Authority for operating expenses;
— $4.5 million from the General Fund to WTJX Public Television;
— $28.8 million to fund the V.I. Superior Court;
— $6.5 million to fund the V.I. Supreme Court;
— $3.7 million for the Office of the Public Defender;
— $0286,000 to the V.I. Judicial Council;
–$3 million from the Sewer Waste Water Fund to the WMA for operating expenses;
— $3.8 million from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund to the WMA;
— $9 million from the Caribbean Basin Initiative Fund as a contribution to the General Fund;
— $1 million to the V.I. Bureau of Motor Vehicles for regular operating expenses;
— $1.7 million from the Business and Commercial Properties Revolving Fund to the Department of Property and Procurement for operating expenses;
— $3 million from the Government Insurance Fund to the Finance and Labor departments for each department’s operating expenses administrating the Workers Compensation program;
— $3.9 million from fees collected by Health in the Health Revolving Fund to the Health Department;
— $5.1 million from federal re-imbursements in the Indirect Cost Fund to be divided between OMB, the Division of Personnel, and departments of Property and Procurement and Finance;
— $1 million from the Interest Revenue Fund to the General Fund;
— $881,000 to the Public Employee Relations Board and $165,000 to the Labor Management Committee from the Union Arbitration Award Fund;
— $1.8 million from the Public Services Revolving Fund to pay for PSC operating expenses;
— $2.3 million from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund to several agencies for traveler exit surveys, festival police operations and festival cleanup;
— $626,000 to the V.I. Taxicab Commission from the Taxi License Fund;
— $1.5 million from the General Fund for the V.I. Elections Office and the two territorial elections boards; and
— $250,000 from the General Fund to the Agriculture Revolving Fund.
A bill requested by Gov. John deJongh Jr. that would have imposes a $1 a month fee on cell phone users to help pay for emergency 911 services was voted down.
The appropriations bills approved by the Rules and Judiciary Committee now move on to the full Senate for a final vote.

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