In a four-hour span yesterday, the House and Senate passed a bill amending the five-day-old fiscal year 2014 budget law to correct an $80 million oversight in the NMI Retirement Fund’s operational funding for it to pay retirees’ pension. But a Senate amendment to the bill tosses back the measure to the House for approval or rejection, instead of sending it to the governor right away.
Rep. Tony Sablan’s (Ind-Saipan) House Bill 18-124, which amends the budget law, Public Law 18-18, passed the House by a vote of 20-0 at 2:56pm.
The House immediately transmitted the bill to the Senate, owing the urgency of signing it into law before the start of fiscal year 2014 on Oct. 1.
However, it was not until 7:20pm—some four hours later—that the Senate passed the bill with an amendment offered by Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) to place five Tinian firefighter positions from the mayor’s office to under the Division of Fire.
The Senate-amended bill has to go back to the House for approval or rejection.
The Inos administration was expecting the bill’s swift passage.
“Just as Governor Inos stated in his approval of the budget, this separate measure is critical and he urged immediate action by the Legislature to ensure that the NMI Retirement Fund is not adversely impacted by the oversight,” said press secretary Angel Demapan.
The Fund’s operational funding of $84.765 million in fiscal year 2014 is not part of the $123.4 million general fund revenues available for government operations, but its inclusion in the budget measure is for informational purposes only. However, the Fund could not spend that amount without approval from the Legislature and the governor.
In the budget process between the administration and the Legislature, there was a missing $80 million in the Fund’s 2014 operations funds.
Without a bill amending the law to correct the oversight, the Fund would only have $4 million in fiscal year 2014, enough to pay only one full pension in the year.
In other news, the Senate also confirmed five of Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ re-appointees to the Marianas Visitors Authority and the Commonwealth Election Commission yesterday afternoon.
By a vote of 8-0 each, senators adopted separate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations report recommending confirmation of the five nominees.
Senators confirmed the governor’s re-appointments of Marian Aldan-Pierce, Emma S. Villagomez and Vicente M. Calvo to the MVA board of directors. Pierce, president of DFS Saipan, is the MVA board chair. Pierce and Villagomez represent Saipan on the board, while Calvo represents Rota.
The Senate also confirmed the governor’s re-appointees to the Commonwealth Election Commission: chair Frances M. Sablan and Trinidad L. Rabauliman. Both represent Saipan on the committee.