Ever feel you woke up on a totally different planet where everything works contrary to what you know to be right?
After years of hearing about the precarious financial state of the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS), it was shocking to read in the media that one of our elected representatives tucked a very costly amendment onto a bill this week.
The Bill, 30-0112, was intended to simply clarify an issue related to retirees returning to government service on a temporary basis. The intent was to take a lot of ambiguity out of whether the retiree would work 75 days for any amount of hours each day or for no more than 600 hours total, which would come out to be 75 days if the person worked a traditional 8 hour day.
AARP VI strongly supported making the language in the bill clear and understandable and looked forward to the bill’s passage. But in a totally disassociated fashion, a Senator tacked an unrelated amendment onto Bill 30-0112 which could not have come at a worse time for the VI government or the retirement system.
Senator Alecia “Chucky” Hansen resurrected a portion of an old piece of legislation that was originally intended to avoid massive government layoffs during a period of territory-wide financial distress. Under that legislation, instead of firing government workers, the employees had the option to take a two-year leave from their job and in return the government would: hold their position, pay both the employee and employer portions of their retirement contributions, pay their health insurance premiums and the employee would lose no seniority while away from the job.
While the government remains in a financial crisis, the environment around the crisis has changed. Today, the government is leaner. The potential absence of employees in key positions could cause services in that area of government to come to a halt. Plus, the practice would tie up a job for two years for each person who might take advantage of the law and then permit the individual to return to work later without having lost any job seniority.
Additionally, establishing this public policy now would also create new financial obligations for unknown amounts for both the government and employee shares of health AND pension benefits. And with all this, how would the public’s interest be served?
At a time when the Virgin Islands Government is working hard to stay current with its share of pension payments, health insurance premiums, payroll and vendor payments, now is probably the worst possible time for the Legislature to entice government employees to take time off while leaving the full burden for paying expensive benefits on the shoulders of taxpayers.
The frightening thing about this amendment is that many such unfunded liabilities have been legislated before. In fact there have been 10 unfunded mandates for early retirements that have seriously impacted GERS’ ability to remain solvent. AARP and other community organizations have worked diligently to remind residents of these past travesties and help them see how dangerous such legislation can be, yet here we go again!
On my planet, we would have seen things differently. Our employees would think that now was the time to work that much harder, become that much more efficient, and ensure that the government was getting a full, eight-hour day of work for a day’s pay.
If you too feel this amendment is inappropriate, PLEASE write, call, fax, email or put comments on the Governor’s social media pages telling him to VETO Bill 30-0112. Tell him that now is not the time to give away expensive benefits.
Facebook: Governor John P. deJongh, Jr.
St. Thomas/Water Island St. Croix St. John
Phone: 340-774-0001 340-773-1404 340-776-8484
Fax: 340-692-4309 340-713-9806 340-776-6992
Address: 21-22 Kongens Gade 1105 King Street The Battery
Charlotte Amalie Christiansted St. John
St. Thomas, VI 00802 St. Croix, VI 00820 00830