A joint committee from the House of Representatives and Senate working on a compromise version of the fiscal year 2014 budget bill reached another milestone yesterday by agreeing to restore $2 million for the Department of Public Lands’ homestead projects mostly on Rota and Tinian and a $200,000 portion of the Marianas Visitors Authority budget.
The six-member conference committee led by House Ways and Means Committee chair Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan) and Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) expects to wrap up its talks today and come up with a committee report.
Taimanao, in a phone interview last night, told Saipan Tribune that $2 million is restored to DPL’s budget along with $200,000 restored for MVA’s budget.
Yesterday, the conferees called in DPL Secretary Pete A. Tenorio and other DPL personnel to discuss the $2 million taken out and then restored to the department’s budget.
The House budget version slashed $2 million from DPL for its homestead development projects, while the Senate reinstated it, only to be rejected by the House.
The Senate, meanwhile, cut $200,000 from MVA’s budget, which the House didn’t agree to.
The conference committee—three each from the House and Senate—is hashing out the differences in the two budget versions.
Among the differences that Taimanao hopes will be settled today is the government utility account—the Senate wants it centralized while the House followed the governor’s proposal of a decentralized one to hold each department and agency accountable for their utility expenditures.
They will also resolve the differences on a $290,000 funding taken out of Rota and transferred to Saipan.
On their first official meeting on Wednesday, the conferees reached a compromise—that of giving the governor 50 extra full-time equivalent positions compared to the House’s earlier proposal of 25 and the Senate’s 75.
The “compromise” number of additional FTEs is half of Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ request of 100.
Taimanao and Sablan separately said they are pleased with the progress made by the conference committee and vowed to continue this until a budget is passed and signed.
If the $123.4 million budget bill is not passed and signed into law before the start of fiscal year 2014, the CNMI government will have to shut down starting on Oct. 1. The shutdown continues until a new budget is in place.