Gov. Albert Bryan signed 10 new pieces of legislation Wednesday, limiting the resale of taxi medallions to veterans, devoting a little more federal excise tax money to the V.I. government pension system, mandating semi-autonomous agency budget data go online, and for other purposes.
The government auctions off “medallions” each year, granting the holder the right to operate a taxi. Those who buy them generally do not actually operate taxis, but instead buy them as a speculative source of income and rent them out or resell them. In past legislative hearings, V.I. government officials have said as much as 80 percent of V.I. taxi drivers lease their medallion from a speculator. Some years back, the Legislature limited the auction to veterans.
Taxis are unique among businesses, in that to open a store, a mechanic shop or a painting business, one does not have to rent the right to paint houses from a speculator, while a taxi driver must generally pay a speculator. Many locations use some version of this system, which is prone to corruption. (See: Bloomberg: The Struggles of New York City’s Taxi King)
Bryan signed a bill prohibiting veterans who receive taxi medallions from selling them to non-veterans, approved 14-zero in the Legislature, but cautioned lawmakers that he believes more amendments are needed to avoid infringing on veterans’ benefits.
“I support the intent of this measure to protect and provide benefits to our veterans pursuant to the veterans’ auction of medallions, but as written the measure also limits veterans who obtain medallions at the regular auction, an effect I doubt was intended by this Legislature,” he wrote.
The bill specifically says veterans who buy medallions at auction may only resell to veterans. As a result, the restriction does not apply to veterans or non-veterans who purchased a resold medallion, nor to any veterans who purchase a resold medallion in the future.
The legislation affects taxi medallion speculators but does nothing to improve the lack of reliable taxi service, lack of taxi service at night, lack of a central number to call taxis and other profound limitations on taxi availability in the territory.
Another bill before the Legislature right now would require taxis to take credit cards. If passed, signed into law and implemented, that measure could make it easier for more tourists to use taxis.
Bryan thanked the Senate for passing legislation to extend the deadline for the Cannabis Advisory Council to establish rules and regulations for medical marijuana. Under the terms of medical cannabis legislation enacted at the beginning of the year, there was a deadline of 120 days to establish regulations. That deadline recently passed.
Bryan signed into law Bill No. 33-0070, which authorizes the Government of the Virgin Islands to secure a revolving credit of up to $80 million to pay outstanding obligations pending the receipt and disbursement of federal funds for hurricane recovery and restoration.
And he signed Bill No. 33-0032, which requires the Office of Management and Budget, the Finance Department and the Bureau of Information Technology to establish websites providing the public with financial information about the agencies. The government recently established such a website at www.transparency.vi.gov. But the change would require budget information be posted from semi-autonomous agencies like the Water and Power Authority, as well as the judicial and legislative branches.
Bryan said he has reservations about Bill No. 33-0014, but he signed the legislation, which increases the appropriation from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Government Employees Retirement System from $7 million to $10 million and allocates 60 percent of it as “direct contributions” and 40 percent as outstanding employer contributions. These funds are appropriated from the federal government’s annual remittance of federal excise tax on alcohol produced in the territory.
Bryan also signed four lease agreements and a rezoning for St. John for Parcel No. 285 Estate Contant and Enighed.