Bryan Budget Calls for Increased Revenue, Raises for Government Workers

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (Government House photo)

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced Monday that for the first time the administration has submitted an executive budget to the Legislature in a biennial budget format, spanning two years.

According to Government House, the proposal reflects increased revenue projections despite the COVID-19 pandemic and also proposes salary increases for government employees.

Among the highlights to the budget pointed out in the news release issued Monday by Government House were:
– Wage increases for government employees of 4 percent in FY 2022 and 3 percent in FY 2023,
– $110 million allotted over both fiscal years for tax refunds,
– Funding for more than 1,200 vacant government positions in FY 2022,
– $10 million in FY 2023 for unfunded obligations as deemed by the GERS judgement,
– $2 million for ongoing payments to medical providers for Worker’s Compensation,
– More than $15 million to be placed in the Rainy-Day Fund across both years,
– Creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention,
– Seven percent or greater increases for Schneider Regional Medical Center, Juan F. Luis Hospital and the Waste Management Authority,
– Development of the Virgin Islands Territorial Park System, and
– $12 million over two years to expand the Workforce Development Program at the Department of Labor.

Government departments had to make do with wide-scale budget reductions in the FY 2021 Executive Budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a significant shortfall in revenues.

“While there has been some impact to our main economic driver, tourism, I am happy to present a budget that is undeniably increased and able to serve the needs of the people of the Virgin Islands,” Bryan said in the news release issued Monday.

The Office of Management and Budget proposed a General Fund budget of $963 million and a total budget of $1.4 billion for FY 2022, and an FY 2023 General Fund budget of $976 million and a total budget of $1.5 billion.

That would be a total budget increase, if approved, of almost 20 percent from the FY 2021 Executive Budget of $1.2 billion. And according to Government House, the budget will include as much as 30 percent budget increases across several departments, including Motor Vehicles, Human Services and Agriculture.

Jenifer O’Neal, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said new software and a spirit of collaboration made the proposal possible.

“This two-year budget was built utilizing our new budgeting software, OpenGov, and is the result of significant collaboration with departments and agencies and other stakeholders to address their needs and the needs of the territory,” O’Neal said. “The result provides a strong blueprint for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 amid ever-changing demands brought to the forefront by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Bryan said the projected revenues show a return on investments made in the local economy.

“These projections speak to positive investments being made in our economy, and that has stabilized our collections even throughout the pandemic. With continued disaster recovery funding and additional pandemic relief support being made available to the territory through legislative acts such as the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, my administration is committed to ‘Building a Better Tomorrow,’” Bryan said. “Capitalizing on these opportunities, we are making investments that will keep us on a long-term path of prosperity and stability.”

In a notice sent by Sen Kurt Vialet to members of the Finance Committee, the committee will provide an electronic copy of the FY 2022 Executive Budget, hearing agendas, agency presentations and post-audit analyses as they become available. Those interested can access these documents at the Legislature’s website.