Bryan Signs Bills on Tax-Break Hiring Rules, Credit Cards

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (Source file photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

Gov. Albert Bryan signed an array of bills recently, including one attempting to place more oversight and limits on the use of government credit cards and another requiring international financial institutions getting V.I. tax breaks of up to 90 percent to hire five people.

The credit card bill was prompted by a V.I. Inspector General’s report finding that many credit card purchases had been made without approved purchase orders, travel expenses occurred without authorization, some credit card payments were made late, which accrued additional charges, and numerous questionable credit card charges were made within several different government agencies.

Bryan praised the Legislature for revisiting the credit card measure after he vetoed an earlier version for being “not well thought out” when it was drafted. He said it would have required the Finance Department to oversee the government instrumentalities, although the department has no authority to do so.

“I am pleased to see that the 33rd Legislature was able to address the concerns expressed … in the governor’s veto message relating to the government credit card bill in order to pass laws that are able to be effectively implemented,” Bryan said in his transmittal letter to Senate President Novelle Francis Jr.

The bill requiring V.I. tax break beneficiaries defined as “international financial institutions” aimed to make those hiring requirements uniform with the rules for other entities that get the tax breaks.

Bryan vetoed two bills. One was a measure intending to require greater expertise on the board of the Government Employees Retirement System. The other limited government-financed scholarships to V.I. valedictorians and salutatorians by requiring the students either attend the University of the Virgin Islands or pursue a major not offered at UVI.

Although he approved a bill intended to prevent underage drinking and alcohol sales to minors, the governor said he did so with “grave reservations,” because it is difficult to enforce and will not accomplish its intended goals unless it is amended and tailored to its true intent.

“I fully support the Legislature and any effort of enforcement aimed at discouraging and preventing underage drinking and the selling of alcohol to minors,” Bryan wrote in the transmittal letter. “But this bill, by unclearly requiring identification checks at the door of an establishment does not address underage drinking directly.”

Bryan said for the measure to be effective, the Legislature needs to make sure the bill does three things it does not currently do: define nightclub, bar or dance hall consistently across the statute so it makes clear which business owners must implement this rule; indicate what happens after proof of identification is furnished; and require proof of identification at the bar when alcohol is being purchased.

Bryan also commended the 33rd Legislature for crafting Bill No. 33-0093, which establishes the St. Thomas Capital Investment Fund; a nominally separate account for St. Thomas capital projects.

“I applaud the senators for acting together regardless of their respective districts,” Bryan wrote. “It is a significant step to repairing the divide that exists between the districts.”

One bill he signed authorizes the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Economic Development Authority to create a plan to develop a “sustainable blue economy” in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A “blue economy” is vaguely identified as one relating to marine industries, marine fisheries and marine environment.

Bryan also signed bills to:
– Designate June 8 as a day honoring Euclyn “Pede” Prentice Jr. for his accomplishments in the horse racing industry and designates a public road in the John F. Kennedy Housing Community to be named after him.
– Authorize the Bureau of Internal Revenue to create any and all forms necessary for the collection and filing of taxes.
– Name the children’s reading room at the Charles W. Turnbull Regional Library after Beulah Smith Harrigan, posthumously honoring and commending her for her role in the development of the territory’s library system.
– Make the month of May “Virgin Islands Mental Health Awareness Month” and tasking the departments of Health and of Education with increasing mental health awareness and reducing the stigma of mental illness.
– Create an unfunded mandate for the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Tourism to host an annual “V.I. Agricultural Caribbean Symposium.
– A bill requiring international financial services businesses who set up in the U.S. Virgin Islands for V.I. Economic Development Authority tax breaks of up to 90 percent to hire five people, rather than three people under previous law.
– Ratify the governor’s approval of a lease agreement between the Department of Property and Procurement and Caledonia Communications Corporation.
– Allow a referendum vote on the November, 2020 general election ballot on convening a Virgin Islands constitutional convention.

Vetoes
Bryan said in his transmittal letter that he vetoed a bill which imposes a limit on valedictorians and salutatorians because “unnecessary added language” in it prohibits students who are accepted to colleges and universities outside of the U.S. Virgin Islands from receiving scholarship funds unless they attend the University of the Virgin Islands or choose a major not offered at UVI.

“I believe valedictorians and salutatorians should not be limited in any way from being rewarded for their academic excellence, and that they have the right to receive a scholarship award and use the money that they receive at any college or university that they choose to attend,” Bryan wrote in the transmittal letter. “Furthermore, given the tuition-free status of UVI for V.I. residents, scholarship use at UVI is now a nullity.”

Bryan said he encourages the Legislature to rework the bill to eliminate the limitations he feels it unnecessarily imposes. The limitation in the bill he vetoed has the effect of directing funding toward UVI, slightly helping to subsidize tuition free status.

Bryan said that despite his support of a bill which requires greater expertise on the GERS board, he had to veto the measure because it contains language that is incongruent to the bill’s effectiveness and purpose.

“Once again, quick amendments and poor drafting would have resulted in conflicting clauses within the Virgin Islands Code if signed into law,” Bryan wrote.