House sends budget act to Senate

Propst calls lawmaker’s operations budget increase ‘excessive’

The House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill to fund the operations of the government for the next fiscal year, sending the measure to the Senate with no additional amendments.

After a debate over a proposed amendment by Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) to shift over some of the lawmakers’ operations budget to the mayors of Rota, Tinian, and Saipan, the House voted with 17 yes to 2 no votes to send the budget to the upper house at about 4:20pm yesterday afternoon. Propst and Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan) voted against.

The budget act, or House Bill 19-196, appropriates $142 million from government resources to fund government departments and agencies.

Propst’s proposed amendment shifted the House and Senate’s operations budget increase from FY 2016 to FY 2017—an amount of $585,155—to the Saipan Mayor’s Office at $423,736, the Rota mayor at $80,710, and Tinian mayor at $80,710.

Propst called their 27-percent increase an increase more than what was given to other offices and agencies, and said that in light of the needs of the CNMI, its agencies, people, and government’s outstanding obligations, the increase was “excessive.”

“We all need to do our part to be as fiscally conservative as possible, Mr. Speaker,” Propst said. “This is substantial amount that could go into beautification efforts and could clean up the island. We wouldn’t have to do as much from our office. We could actually let the mayor be able to operate and do more with this increased budget.

Broken down per the 29 members of the two houses, the 27-percent increase amounts to $21,178, Propst later said.

In arguing against the amendment, Rep. Antonio Sablan (Ind-Saipan), the chair of the Ways and Means Committee that produced the budget act, said his committee and the administration did not ignore allotting more funds to the respective municipalities.

He noted an increase in the amount of half a million each to Rota and Tinian mayors, and $550,000 to the Saipan and Northern Islands.

His committee, he said, funded in the amount of $400,000 additional money to Rota to finally retire the long standing debt to Rota civil service employees owed salary adjustments from Public Law 7-31.

“The public law number itself should be a concern,” he said. “This is the 19th Legislature. That’s over 24 years since the passage…to this year.”

He also said he has introduced a bill that would basically give the mayor of Saipan close to over $300,000 in additional funding for its operations and beautification projects. “So it’s not like the committee is not mindful of the needs of our respective mayors. Again, we also have to be mindful…that we also have an obligation to provide the service that is expected of us as members of this body. The roughly $400,000 [for the House] that we are trying to move around here I can assure—in communicating with the various members of this body—could afford the members the opportunity to do more,” he said.

“I know some member’s employees are being laid off periodically because of lack of funding.”

House vice speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), for his part, said the more important question is where the funding should go, admitting no objection to more funding for the mayor but reminding lawmakers they’ve heard testimony for more funding for the veteran’s cemetery, which he has felt has been “shortchanged.”

The vice speaker also underscored funding needed to secure expertise or advice in producing their bills. “I am happy that we finally included in our payroll an economist and fiscal analyst. We don’t have the luxury like the U.S. Congress, with its research arm. If we want to give [the funds] to the legislative bureau so we can hire more expertise then I will support it, but let’s not just for the sake of taking, reduce ourselves,” he said. “…[the funds] can be used for the right [purposes] and that is why we are here to do better bills and have more research done on the bills that we do introduce.”

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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