Members of Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s Cabinet came together Wednesday at Government House on St. Croix to discuss the administration’s FY 2020 budget and policy priorities.
The governor opened Wednesday’s meeting by thanking the Cabinet for working through their respective agencies to stabilize the government, and he highlighted that effort as the first step in changing course for a more effective government and a better Virgin Islands.
“We have changed course,” Bryan said, “but to effectively execute our priorities of driving economic development and improving the quality of life for Virgin Islanders, we need to stabilize our government. Continuing the recovery is part of that process, and that includes making the tough decisions.”
Bryan pointed to a proposal to use a $39 million Medicaid reimbursement to pay outstanding debts of the territory’s two hospitals, which include more than $20 million to the VI Water and Power Authority (WAPA), as an example of making the difficult decisions necessary to stabilize the government and ultimately improve the quality of life for Virgin Islands residents.
Paying past debts to WAPA also ensures that the utility will have access to necessary cash heading into the Atlantic Hurricane Season, that power and water will be available for employees to care for patients in the hospitals, and that there are resources to keep two separate electrical grids on each island energized for residents.
Office of Management and Budget Director-designee Jenifer O’Neal presented the FY 2020 Executive Budget to the Governor’s Cabinet at Wednesday’s meeting ahead of the May 30 deadline to submit to the Legislature, noting it as “comprehensive in scope and thought, and one which seeks to allocate funding fairly and judiciously to areas where there is great need.”
The FY 2020 Executive Budget contains notable increases to the Department of Health and the Virgin Islands Fire Service for the transfer of Emergency Medical Service personnel from the Department of Health to the Virgin Islands Fire Service.
The budget also calls for equal distribution of general fund resources to both the Schneider Regional Medical Center and the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital at $22 million, and an increase to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation’s budget to provide resources for youth-focused programs.
The governor spoke to the importance of paying the debts of the central government before creating new expense obligations, stating, “There is a lot of economic activity around the recovery, but that is not permanent, so we need to get out there and do the necessary things and pay down the debt of this government.”
The governor said, “One of those debts we need to address is paying income tax refunds to taxpayers in the territory, so the administration is setting aside $75 million to pay tax returns in this year’s budget.”
Territorial ADA Coordinator Julien Henley gave a presentation on the Americans with Disabilities Act and briefed Cabinet members on what they need to do to ensure their agencies are in compliance and their staffs are trained.
Office of Collective Bargaining-designee Joss Springette also provided advice to the Cabinet members at the meeting on maintaining effective labor relations in their agencies and with their collective bargaining units; Office of Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien presented a status update on the recovery and rebuilding effort.