ST THOMAS, USVI -- On Friday night, US Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh signed into law the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which funds government operations through the end of September next year. De Jongh enacted 28 of the budget bills in their entirety but used his veto pen to nix one section of Bill 29-0395.
As regards Section 13 of the bill, de Jongh pointed out that “while the intent was to enable designated service businesses, particularly financial services companies, to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace by allowing them to employ less than the ten required under current law, Section 13 goes far beyond this limited intent by including a myriad of business enterprises in the professional services arena.”
De Jongh wrote the Senate that, if approved, the effects of the amendments set forth in Section 13 would be detrimental as they would stifle economic growth and expansion of current beneficiaries’ business activities.
“Moreover, I am opposed to making such targeted changes in our industrial investment incentive law when a more comprehensive review and holistic revision of its terms is the more prudent course to follow,” he said.
De Jongh said he must also point out that with respect to Section 4 of Bill No. 29-0395, the prevalent precarious financial conditions in which we find ourselves and the limited government financial resources available mandates that we access these monies only to the extent that we are able to identify appropriate funds to be tapped for such support.
“Additionally, as a general observation, I am also constrained to note that Bill No. 29-0935 contains a $300,000 miscellaneous appropriation entitled ‘8% restoration,’ which one can only presume would be designed to offset the reduction in legislative employee salaries under the Virgin Islands Economic Stability Act of 2011. While in laudable fashion, it is a fact that legislative employees are performing their jobs while being compensated with reduced salaries, the Legislature they serve has never transferred those savings to the General Fund as did the executive branch departments and agencies, so a ‘restoration’ through an increased appropriation of the Legislature’s resources hardly seems fair or appropriate when compared to the substantial cut in services absorbed by others,” he said.
The governor also said he was concerned that the Legislature severely underfunded both the University of the Virgin Islands and the Government Employees’ Health Insurance Program in Fiscal Year 2013, with this shortfall having to be made up through further budget cuts as well as through judicious exercise of the allotment process.
“I understand that the underfunding of the University of the Virgin Islands below my Administration’s recommended level of funding contained in Bill No. 29-0415 was inadvertent and will be addressed at the next legislative session. However, by tabling the proposal to adjust the employer and employee cost share of the health insurance premiums from the current 65/35 split to a 60/40 split, the Legislature has as a practical matter has underfunded the government’s share of the health insurance premium in Fiscal Year 2013,” he said.
De Jongh said he trusts that before the adjournment of the 29th Legislature, lawmakers will address and remedy the current budget shortfall through the passage of certain enabling legislation submitted with the Fiscal Year 2013 Executive Budget.
“I thank you and the members of the 29th Legislature for your diligence in furthering our mutual interests in seeing the United States Virgin Islands through difficult financial times as we enter Fiscal Year 2013 and look forward to your continued cooperation towards achieving a balanced budget,” he said.