Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. sent down his proposed fiscal year 2023-2024 executive budget to the Legislature Tuesday and issued a release saying projections show increases in the five primary revenue-collecting categories of personal income tax; corporate income tax; real property tax; gross receipts tax; and excise tax.
The proposed executive budget, which by statute must be balanced, includes $919,493,992 in General Funds for Fiscal Year 2023 and $921,636,078 in General Funds for Fiscal Year 2024. The total operating budget including appropriated, non-appropriated, and federal funds is $1,333,735,753 and $1,325,418,495 in Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024 respectively.
These totals are roughly $200 million per year less than Bryan proposed last year, for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years. (See: Bryan Budget Calls for Increased Revenue, Raises for Government Workers)
In May of 2021, 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.
But the release from Government House notes that this 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.
The 2021 budget, presented in June of 2020, was sharply constrained due to the COVID-19 Pandemic’s massive impact on the territory’s economy and hence tax revenues. (See: Revenue Cuts Mean Sharp Government Spending Constraints This Year and Next) It bounced back up the following year, due in part to federal relief and the resumption of tourist travel to the territory.
“Once again we sent in a two-year budget. We believe that planning is essential and it is good to give the lawmakers a look at what we have coming up,” Bryan said during Tuesday’s weekly briefing at Government House.
“We’re approaching a point here where, yes, we’re stronger than ever, but we have to make sure that we don’t tip over that point where we create so many expenses for our government that we can’t handle it once we get over the COVID recovery and spending from the hurricane,” Bryan said. “We need to have a manageable budget so we never have to go through that 8 percent reduction or layoffs or anything like that again.
“So, while we are very optimistic about our future, framing our financial future is making sure that we do it in a responsible way,” Bryan said.
Some of the highlights of the FY 2023-2024 Executive Budget are:
• More than $16 million in public employee wage increases.
• Funding for more than 1,200 new and vacant positions across all agencies for FY 2023.
• $2 million to fund the Office of Disaster Recovery.
• $225,000 for continued support of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
• $1.8 million for expansion of the GVI Financial Fellows internship program.
• Full integration of the EMS staff from the Department of Health to the VI Fire Service.
• An additional $2 million in funding to the Judicial branch for salary increases.
• $25 million in FY 2023 and FY 2024 in retroactive wages owed to retirees.
• $5 million to be deposited in the Rainy-Day Fund to continue building cash reserves for potential future downturns.
It also has $5 million in the Transportation Trust Fund to allow for road maintenance, which is the fund’s purpose.
Bryan said his Executive Budget proposal also includes legislation to approve adult-use cannabis, to create an additional revenue stream. He said he plans to call the Legislature into special session to address the Adult-Use Cannabis Act and he will give lawmakers plenty of time to consider the proposed measure.
“We have a $40 million funding gap this year that we need to fill with different types of funding resources. We need to get that going,” Bryan said. “Don’t listen to them when they tell you about medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis use costs us money; it doesn’t make us a dime. We don’t tax it because it’s a medicine. We need to get this bill moving. It’s been three years now. Get it moving through the Legislature so we can get some money going.”
Bryan described the proposed budget as “Framing Our Financial Future,” which he said means we need to be looking forward, as well as at the present, about what’s going to happen and what we need to survive.
“One day, all the federal money is going to come to a screeching halt, and we’re going to have to figure out how to make this economy more viable,” Bryan said. “That’s why I’m making trips to Boston, D.C., New York, wherever I need to go to create economic recovery and bring new economic dollars to the territory.”