Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos said yesterday that “over 1,500 employees” will be temporarily out of jobs starting Monday when the government partially shuts down if no fiscal year 2013 budget is in place by Sunday, even as a joint budget panel has yet to finalize a $114 million spending bill as of last night.
Inos, who turned 63 yesterday, said part of his birthday wish is the passage of a balanced budget and prevention of a shutdown, along with an improved economy, a reformed pension agency, a better healthcare system, and manageable utility rates.
As acting governor last year, Inos signed the fiscal year 2012 budget bill on his birthday, Sept. 26.
Yesterday, there was not even a budget bill that the full House and Senate could review.
“There will be over 1,500 government employees that will be affected by a shutdown. We hope it won't come to that,” Inos told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
The deadline for passing and enacting a new budget measure is Sept. 30; otherwise, the government will have to partially shut down until a budget is in place, as required by the Constitution.
House Ways and Means Committee chair Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan) said last night that legal counsels were still reviewing and finalizing the budget bill but he said the spending measure will be ready for today's Senate session.
As of last night, the across-the-board cut was pegged at 1.477 percent, Basa said. This is a change from the previous rates of 1.9 percent, 5 percent, and 8 percent.
Priority agencies such as the Public School System, Northern Marianas College, and Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. will get a budget lower than what the conferees earlier intended. PSS, for example, will have some $32 million instead of $33 million.
CHC's direct subsidy will be some $1.9 million instead of $5 million, but conferees said the hospital will have other sources of funding such as Compact-Impact and an expected loan from the Marianas Public Land Trust.
The government's defined benefit plan contribution will be $10 million, down from the earlier plan of $11 million.
“But 80 work hours is intact,” Basa said, adding, however, that some numbers may still change until they have the final form of the bill.
Other agencies and programs such as the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Rota, and Tinian also got funding cuts.
The Fitial administration has put in place a government shutdown contingency plan, listing positions that will be exempted from a shutdown, including doctors, nurses, police officers, corrections officers and utility crews. This plan may be released today.
Some government employees on Capital Hill expressed disappointment that the Legislature has yet to pass a budget, some six months since the governor submitted his budget proposal in late March.
House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) said the committee wants government employees to report for work on Monday.
Inos, in an interview with reporters, said the Fitial administration is aware of the difficulties and challenges associated with passing a budget.
“So we'll put emphasis on the overall objective of having a budget and working out the benefits that we will approve to our people as a whole, as opposed to looking at individual agencies. We're not after winners and losers here. It's all about making sure the government survives during this difficult time. So if we don't have a budget, we are all losers. But we all want to be winners so we hope that [a budget bill] would be forthcoming,” he said.
He said having a government shutdown is “a step backward.”
But even if the Legislature passes a budget bill, the administration would still want to make sure it's a workable one. For one, the current budget measure does not fund the 4 percent government employer contribution for those in the defined contribution plan, which could be a reason for a governor's veto.
The CNMI government partially shut down in 2010 for some 10 days over a bitter deadlock between the House and Senate.