Senate Overrides Bryan’s Veto of Bill Analysts Say May Bankrupt WAPA

Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory presides over Tuesday’s Senate session. (Photo by Chaunte Herbert, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

The V.I. Legislature voted to override vetoes of two bills on Tuesday; one of which may make the Water and Power Authority default on loans, according to analysts from Fitch Ratings, and one adding WAPA governing board qualifications but reducing the quorum size.

Many V.I. boards are periodically or generally unable to meet or to act due to a lack of quorum.

Both bills are sponsored by a majority of the senators in the Legislature. Proponents say the bill’s goals are to ultimately improve WAPA service by increasing oversight and increasing the expertise of that oversight.

Gov. Albert Bryan vetoed both bills in May.

Of the one impacting the PSC (Bill 34-0021), Bryan wrote that by passing that bill “the Legislature has, again, intruded into the supervisory and decision-making powers of the executive branch and violated several federal statutes.”

Bryan said the bill’s directive to hire a turnaround company and provisions in the bill for additional staffing and expanding jurisdiction for the PSC are unfunded mandates that cannot be supported with the existing funds of either WAPA or the PSC.

“These issues are more complex than they appear on the surface,” Bryan said. “I vetoed the bill because it destabilizes our own assets. … WAPA’s main problems are on the finance side. There are a lot of things going on at WAPA at one time, but the most precarious thing is their financial situation,” he said.

A few days later, Fitch Ratings issued a negative ratings watch for WAPA, indicating it was concerned the legislation could make WAPA less able to pay lenders.

According to a statement from Fitch, the move “reflects the ongoing prospects for additional governmental oversight of WAPA, which could adversely affect operating performance and increase the authority’s vulnerability to default.”

This is the second piece of local legislation in the past year that Fitch has raised alarms over. That bill, aiming to create a temporary new management system for WAPA, was never enacted.

Senators also overrode Bryan’s veto of a measure (34-0026) that aims to reduce the size of the WAPA board from the current nine members down to seven and reduce the number of members needed for a quorum from five to four. It also requires members to reside in the districts they represent and all non-government members to have formal education in any one of several fields, from energy production to information technology.

This measure is one of several proposed by Sen. Janelle Sarauw making changes to the requirements of membership to a number of boards and commissions in hopes of improving their performance.

Bryan said he vetoed it because he believes it infringes on his powers under the Revised Organic Act, the federal law that acts as the territory’s constitution until such a time as it might enact a constitution that is not in conflict with the U.S. Constitution or federal law.

“While this measure is motivated by great intentions to address the vexing problems of WAPA, it does nothing to improve the efficiency, reliability and affordability of the services provided by the Water and Power Authority,” Bryan wrote in his transmittal letter. “This does nothing to address the allegations of waste, fraud and abuse. It does nothing to address customer complaints. It is solely focused on limiting the governor’s input into the decision-making of WAPA.”

All members present voted for both veto overrides. Sarauw and Sen. Milton Potter were absent.