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Finance Committee Passes Budget Bills

The Finance Committee addressed more than 35 bills Thursday, sending forward an array of budget bills and appropriation transfers that codify the governor’s budgets for executive agencies and semi-autonomous entities like the University of the Virgin Islands, as they were discussed during budget hearings this summer. The legislation put forward will be considered next in the Rules and Judiciary Committee, before final votes in legislative session planned for later in September.

One bill covered General Fund appropriations for salaries and operating expenses for most central government agencies, from the Education to Police, Human Services and Corrections. [31-0403]

That one massive bill appropriates the majority of the entire budget. It comes to $612.9 million from the General Fund, with $106.9 million under miscellaneous expenses, for everything from nonprofits to special programs, and $506 million for salaries, benefits, operating expenses and utilities for the agencies. That’s down from $560.9 million last year for those purposes.

As usual, the Education Department is by far the largest single item, at $167.1 million, with $139.2 million for payroll and benefits. That is an increase from last year, when Education was budgeted $160 million, with $126.8 million for payroll and benefits. Last year also included $3 million for funded vacancies that are not in this year’s budget, and a separate item of $1.2 million for lunch workers, who are now on regular payroll. [FY 2016 Budget Bill 31-0190]

The Human Services Department is the next largest item, at $69 million for FY17, up $10 million from FY16’s budget appropriation of $59.3 million.

Next is the V.I. Police Department, budgeted at $63.1 million, of which $52.1 million is payroll and benefits. That’s up by about $4 million from last year, when police were budgeted $59.9 million, with payroll and benefits at $50 million.

In the Miscellaneous Section the largest item, as always, is health insurance for government retirees, at $37.4 million, unchanged from last year.

The judiciary, UVI and hospitals were addressed in separate bills. UVI is budgeted at $31.8 million, up a little from $30 million last year. The judiciary as a whole, is at $39.8 million, up slightly from $38.8 million last year. Support for the territory’s two hospitals is budgeted at $48.8 million, with $25.5 million for Schneider Regional Medical Center and $23.3 million for Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital.

The total is up from $42.6 million budgeted for FY16.

The V.I. Waste Management Authority is budgeted at $22.9 million.

Funding for the Legislature was not addressed Thursday, but it is budgeted at $21 million – unchanged from last year.

Those five items bring spending to $777.2 million, not counting an array of smaller bodies, from the Board of Education to Veterans Affairs, which, when added in, will bring the total to somewhere around $900 million, not counting federal funding and funds generated within agencies through fees and charges.

The committee also approved a lease for the V.I. Water and Power Authority to build a tower to remotely manage its automated metering infrastructure. WAPA will be leasing 250 square feet of land at 24C Estate Recovery Hill, Company Quarter, Christiansted, St. Croix.

The budget bills now go to the Rules and Judiciary Committee and then to the Senate floor for final votes later this month.

Finance Chairman Clifford Graham is not running for another Senate term this year. Many of the senators present said they would miss him and that he had worked hard and done a good job as a legislator and chair of the busy Finance Committee.

Senate President Neville James said he "could still hope for a miracle" that would somehow keep Graham in office, saying, "You are, in my estimation, a very good senator from the District of St. Thomas and St. John."

Present were Graham, Sens. Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Marvin Jackson, Sammuel Sanes, Positive Nelson and Tregenza Roach. Noncommittee member James also attended.

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