Virgin Islands legislature complains about governor’s emergency

The U.S. Virgin Islands Legislature complained about the governor’s lack of consultation before he declared a state of emergency to pay off Water and Power Authority debts.

The legislature gathered Tuesday to express its concerns about Gov. Albert Bryan’s Monday action, which used the emergency declaration to authorize spending the government’s rainy-day funds for WAPA debts.

“What’s missing is accountability,” said Legislature President Novelle Francis Jr., adding the legislature is responsible for the “purse strings” of the government.

Because of lack of payments to certain companies, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority has had rolling electric outages in the past 12 days.

“It is perplexing that the leaders of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority and the executive branch leadership would wait until the 12th hour to take action and approach the legislature in full crisis mode,” said Legislature Chair of Budget, Appropriations, and Finance Committee Donna Frett-Gregory. She said WAPA only brought its pressing need to immediately pay creditors and make a bond payment this week to the legislature a few days ago.

The legislature should be used in decision making, Francis said.

The governor plans to use roughly $15 million starting Tuesday from a budget stabilization fund that had about $21 million to make two debt payments WAPA was being pressed to make to outside suppliers and a third payment due to bondholders.

Electrical outages stemming from the lack of payments have plagued the islands since April 12.

Two semi-autonomous public hospitals and a public waste management agency owed $11 million to WAPA and the central government’s actions will wipe away these debts.

To deal with WAPA issues, the legislature has scheduled a Budget, Appropriations, and Finance Committee meeting for Wednesday and a general session for Thursday. Frett-Gregory said it was unfortunate the Virgin Islands Office of Management and Budget director and Finance Commissioner have told the legislature they will not attend Tuesday’s meeting, citing the state of emergency.  

Frett-Gregory said the legislature will find ways to cut spending at Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s sessions in order to build back the budget stabilization fund. The government needs this fund to potentially ride out emergencies stemming from major storms that hit the islands, Francis said. The legislature will also discuss how to address WAPA financial troubles.  

Francis said the government was not meeting budgeted projections for revenues in the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.

Francis said the legislature’s lawyers were examining whether the governor had the legal right to declare an emergency and use the budget stabilization fund without legislative approval.

Spokespeople for the Virgin Islands governor and WAPA did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the legislative press conference.

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