House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) and Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) on Thursday appointed six members of a bicameral committee to break the fiscal year 2013 budget bill deadlock between the House and Senate, with only three weeks left before the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a budget.
They also appointed two alternate members from the House and Senate.
If no budget is passed and signed into law by Sept. 30, the government will be forced to shut down again starting on Oct. 1 up to the time a budget is in place.
Cabrera appointed himself as a member of the committee, along with vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Siapan), and Rep. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan), the chair of the House conferees. The alternative member from the House is Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan).
Basa is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and author of the 2013 budget measure, House Bill 17-313 that both the House and Senate amended. Cabrera was the budget officer when now Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) was governor.
Manglona, meanwhile, appointed the following Senate conferees: Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota), Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian), and Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan). The alternate member is Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian).
In a phone interview, Manglona said he doesn't see contentious issues that will block the Legislature from passing a budget on time.
Manglona and Taimanao, chair of the Senate conferees, separately said they will work collaboratively with their House counterparts to ensure critical agencies are properly funded, that they will be able to timely pass a budget acceptable to both houses, and avoid a government shutdown.
Cabrera, for his part, said he sees the $300,000 appropriation each for Rota and Saipan to pay retroactive salary of government employees as among the contentious issues.
The House speaker said the retroactive salaries for Saipan employees have already been paid, so he questions this $300,000 that the Senate added to the budget.
The Senate, for its part, gave PSS what it asked for-$33 million-more than the $28 million that the House gave. But education officials fear that once the bill goes into a conference committee, PSS will end up not getting $33 million that they say will eliminate double sessions and allow them to hire teachers, among other things.