The House Ways and Means Committee begins its series of budget hearings starting with the CNMI Public School System today at 9:30am at the House chamber on Capital Hill.
The House, voting 14-4, adopted House concurrent resolution 21-1, to approve the CNMI’s revenues and resources of over $233.2 million in projected gross resources, and more than $147.1 million available for appropriation for fiscal year 2020.
The Torres administration may still amend its budget proposal.
The four dissenting votes in the House concurrent resolution came from minority bloc leader Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), Reps. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan), and Richard Lizama (Ind-Saipan).
Propst and Sablan also aired concerns over the government’s current financial status.
The Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), will scrutinize the budget proposed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and hear from government agencies and departments about their budget requests.
House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) said the committee should carefully “scrutinize all the numbers. You can determine the outcome; it can be lower than what we adopted. Also, take the opportunity, as members of this body, to work on the budget and assist the committee. So we could come up with a good product that we can present to the Senate.”
Blanco said it will be hard but they are up to the challenge beginning with PSS. “The committee appreciates PSS accepting our invitation to discuss it budget proposal in light of the administration’s cost-containment measures, in order to ensure that, first and foremost, no service disruption shall occur to serve our 10,000-plus students.”
Propst is concerned that the projections of the government are off, with the Legislature receiving reductions in its monthly allotments. “How can we operate and why is the Legislature taking much of the hit?”
He pointed out that the Planning and Budget Act states that “decreases in estimated revenues may be absorbed proportionately by all branches, offices, departments, and agencies of the Commonwealth.”
“Is it across-the-board and proportionate? Because, if it is not, it is unfair and we have been penalized. If that’s the case, is the administration doing the same proportionate cuts? We are equal branches—Executive and Judiciary. Are they also getting the same cuts? If not, somebody is breaking the law. We need to get back to reality with our figures, so that we don’t end up with overspending and being so far off,” said Propst.