House leadership members did not show up at yesterday's scheduled meeting with their Senate counterparts to work on a $114 million budget bill for fiscal year 2013, only a day after what they described as a “productive” initial meeting that reached a compromise on the Judiciary and Legislature's budgets.
House leadership members of the Special Committee on Impeachment also snubbed yesterday's meeting of the panel.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial is cautioning lawmakers against not passing a balanced budget on time, press secretary Angel Demapan said.
“The governor also cautions the Legislature to keep in mind that we are nearing the budget deadline and the consequence of a government shutdown in the event that the Legislature fails to pass a balanced budget on time,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune.
He said despite the distraction that will come out as a result of the Special Committee on Impeachment meetings, “Governor Fitial remains committed to addressing the real and more pressing matters of the Commonwealth.”
The Legislature and the administration have only until Sept. 30 to pass and enact a budget bill into law. Failure to do so would force the government to shut down starting Oct. 1 and until a budget is in place.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) said having the House leadership members snubbing an agreed-upon meeting of the budget conference committee “is a warning sign of a possible shutdown.”
He said with time ticking, committee members should not waste any single day to meet and reach compromise on the budget bill.
Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) confirmed that only Senate conferees showed up, and none from the House conferees-Ways and Means Committee chair Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan), Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), and vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan).
On Thursday, all the House and Senate conferees agreed to meet at 9am Friday.
Basa, the lead conferee from the House, “requested” Friday morning that the 9am meeting be rescheduled for 1:30pm, which the Senate conferees accepted.
But at 1:30pm and onwards, none of the House conferees showed up.
“Time is ticking and time is of the essence. I told chairman Basa that if we do not meet the time to address the budget, then imminent shutdown is on the way,” Taimanao said.
Basa, in a phone interview, said he, Cabrera, and Ogumoro met yesterday morning. He said he then proceeded to meet with some government agencies to discuss budget matters, including the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, the Zoning Office, and the Saipan Mayor's Office.
“I didn't snub the meeting. I asked for a rescheduling of the morning meeting,” he said, adding that it turned out, he needed more time to finish his meetings so he wasn't able to show up at the afternoon meeting either. Information as to why Cabrera and Ogumoro didn't show up was not available as of press time.
Basa also pointed out that he was still waiting for figures he requested from Finance, specifically on the expenditures of the First (Rota) and Second (Tinian) Senatorial Districts.
Taimanao said she was hoping that the whole conference committee would be able to work on the budget yesterday and even today, so that by early next week, they would be able to come up with a draft conference committee budget bill that the full House and Senate could act on.
Basa and Taimanao separately said the conferees were able to agree on the budgets of the Judiciary and the Legislature on Thursday.
In their next meeting, they would be discussing the budgets of the Executive Branch, independent agencies, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota municipalities.
In 2010, the government was forced to shut down for some two weeks and left over 1,000 government employees temporarily jobless because the House and Senate were deadlocked on a budget bill.