In a unanimous vote, Virgin Islands senators on Tuesday severed their salaries from that of the lowest-paid executive branch commissioner, currently the Sports, Parks and Recreation commissioner.
If signed into law, the Virgin Islands Compensation Commission would be responsible for recommending the lawmaker’s compensation to the Legislature by May 30, 2022, and until the Legislature acts upon the recommendations the senator’s salaries will remain the same – $85,000.
Division of Personnel Director Dayna Clendinen was the only witness to testify during the hearing. She said her division supports unlinking senator’s salaries.
“The Organic Act makes provisions for three separate government branches: the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch. As the judicial branch’s salaries are not tied to the executive branch, nor should it be for the legislative branch of government,” Clendinen said.
While many of the lawmakers agreed with Clendinen, some listed other reasons why the senator’s salaries should now be in the hands of the Compensation Commission.
“I support the severance of the two positions because I don’t believe that this position, as a senator, should be a career. It certainly breeds room for a lot of things that may not be good. This is supposed to be a position of service, a position of service to the people, not a profession,” Sen. Kenneth Gittens said.
After the Senate dropped the measure during last week’s three dayslong sessions, the public took to social media demanding the raises be halted.
During the previous session, four senators voted to keep the bill and amendment on the agenda: Sens. Javan James Sr., Gittens, Dwayne DeGraff and Oakland Benta. But during Tuesday’s session, Bill 33-0423, no longer an amendment attached to a “Christmas tree bill,” gained support from the entire legislative body.
“I’m not here for another four against ten,” DeGraff said. “I am here for 15 of us to agree or disagree.”
Though senators now agree, several senators who did not entertain the original amendment to sever their salaries from peaking to untying their salaries spoke out about the behavior of the four senators who staunchly opposed the striking of the “Christmas bill.”
Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said, “You know what is sad? All the good measures were overshadowed and just when we were making strides to get our community to trust our leadership, poof, up in smoke.”
All senators were present for the hearing and now the legislation awaits the governor’s signature.