2nd Senate try on bonuses
6 senators pre-file resolution approving Torres’ request for retirees’ $1,000 bonuses
Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and five other Republican senators pre-filed Monday another Senate joint resolution approving Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ request to create a new program and business unit for government retirees’ 1,000 bonuses.
Senate Joint Resolution 22-09 also approves Torres’ request to reprogram $2.6 million from within the Executive Branch for the payment of the retirees’ bonuses.
The five other senators who co-sponsored the joint resolution are Justo S. Quitugua (R-Saipan), Vinnie F. Sablan (R-Saipan), Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), Karl King-Nabors (R-Tinian), and Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian).
The Senate is expected to adopt the joint resolution during a session at the Tinian Superior Courthouse tomorrow, Thursday, at 1:30pm.
The joint resolution does not include any language about giving the governor 100% reprogramming authority, which was why the House Democrat representatives balked at and rejected a previous Senate version of the bill for retirees’ bonuses.
The joint resolution states that the Finance secretary shall report all reprogramming pursuant to this resolution to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Fiscal Affairs and the House Committee on Ways and Means within 30 days after the reprogramming of funds.
The joint resolution states that Torres and Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig have already communicated with the Settlement Fund trustee Joyce C. H. Tang and the Office of the Attorney General regarding the $1,000 retiree bonuses and they have all agreed that this is the best course of action to take in order to make the bonus happen.
Torres and Atalig plan to reprogram $2.6 million from within the Executive Branch for the sole purpose of retiree bonuses.
Both assured the Legislature that programs within the Executive Branch will not be hindered in any way as these funds will be back-filled using American Rescue Plan Act funds under the provisions of Government Loss Revenues, which is subject to state law.
ARPA prohibits using ARPA funds to pay for state retirement benefits, including any CNMI retiree bonus.
If necessary, Torres and Atalig said, the governor and lieutenant governor’s discretionary accounts and funding sources under Finance will be reprogrammed for this purpose.
With the availability and assistance of several federal funding sources for the CNMI government’s operations and four years after the last retiree bonus distribution, Torres now wants to reprogram $2.6 million from within the Executive Branch to make another much needed $1,000 retiree bonus distribution to the retirees.
However, Public Law 22-08 does not include a program and business unit specifically for retiree bonuses, which is required in order to reprogram the funds and make the payments.
Last March 1, Atalig wrote a letter to Hofschneider, assuring that Finance awaits legislative action to permit the use of general fund resources for the payment of $1,000 bonuses for the retirees.
Atalig sought the Senate’s support in securing the necessary legislative authorization, saying this would allow Finance to release the bonus payments to retirees.
The six senators stated in the joint resolution that, although the Planning and Budgeting Act defined a House concurrent resolution to originate in the House, the Planning and Budgeting Act did not define a “joint resolution” in the Commonwealth Code to specify that such joint resolution must also originate in the House. Therefore, the senators said, a joint resolution pursuant to the Commonwealth Code may properly be introduced in the Senate.
The senators noted that the Senate previously exercised its authority to introduce and adopt a resolution to approve a governor’s request for reprogramming of funds when the Senate introduced and adopted Senate Joint Resolution 19-4.
The House adopted the joint resolution that authorized the governor to reprogram funds in excess of the limits.
Last Dec. 14, Torres requested the Legislature to allow reprogramming of funds for the sole purpose of funding the retirees’ $500 bonuses. The following day, the Senate adopted Senate Joint Resolution 22-05, which approved Torres’ request.
Last Jan. 12, the House did not act on the Senate Joint Resolution 22-05 and instead unanimously passed a bipartisan legislation, House Bill 22-91, HD1, that proposes to amend the Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2022 to establish a business unit and allocate $1.3 million in local funds to pay $500 bonuses for each government retiree.
Last Feb. 3, the Senate unanimously passed their version of the bill, with amendments offered by Hofschneider to reflect, among other things, the bonus increase to $1,000. Last Feb. 22, the House rejected the Senate’s version of the bill. Democrat representatives opposed a language in the Senate’s version that will give Torres’ 100% reprogramming authority of the budget.
All 20 representatives agreed to the creation of a conference committee that will hammer out with the Senate a mutually acceptable bill for retirees’ bonuses.
The House conference committee subsequently filed a substitute bill that will re-appropriate $2.62 million in local funds from sources that are already identified, including provisions that were originally passed by both the House and Senate but line-item vetoed by Torres.
Hofschneider did not appoint Senate conferees and instead filed Monday Senate Joint Resolution 22-09.