Much as lawmakers want to give the Public School System the money it needs, House floor leader Rep. John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan) said it is not possible at the moment, as the CNMI is still reeling from the impacts of Super Typhoon Yutu.
At the same time, Rep. Roman C. Benavente (R-Saipan) said the House of Representatives and Senate are working to figure out how to accommodate PSS’ budget request.
The Torres administration has proposed to give PSS just $36.7 million in fiscal year 2020. The amount is almost half of the $67 million that PSS is asking for. The administration projects next fiscal year’s net resources at just over $147.1 million.
Sablan said that most House members still feel that education is the CNMI’s No. 1 investment.
“But we also have to remind PSS and the other educational institutions that they should also play their part in implementing austerity measures until the government is really back on its feet until we can add more revenues that could fund the services provided by the central government,” he said.
PSS’ budget request for fiscal year 2020 includes $1.5 million that is allotted for salary increases of its teachers and other staff. It also includes a PSS request is for within-grade salary increases. Sablan believes these are “not prudent” for now.
“We have no objection to increasing our teachers’ salaries, most especially teachers who are taking post-graduate classes; we acknowledge their effort to gain higher education. But, as of this moment, it is not prudent because of our low resources and revenues. We have to be realistic and work with whatever we have at this time,” he said.
He assured that the House of Representatives may come out with a supplemental budget that would help PSS, based on the collection of revenues in this last two quarters.
Sablan pointed out that the Commonwealth still getting back to its feet.
“…We are experiencing financial difficulties, most of it due to Yutu. Revenues in the first two quarters were down, with no tourists coming in after the airport [was] closed for a couple of months. There were no flights coming in and no tourists. We did not generate any [funds] from the tourism industry,” said Sablan.
He pointed out that three hotels—Saipan World Resort, Pacific Islands Club Saipan, and Coral Ocean Point—were badly damaged, resulting in the loss of hotel occupancy taxes, even after the airport resumed accepting flights. “It was a domino effect with other businesses.”
Sablan said the austerity measures has been implemented in all three branches of the government—Executive Branch, Legislature, and Judiciary. “All three branches are taking their fair share of these cuts; it is not something that we wanted to do but it is just the real issue right now. …We are adjusting and I know that the administration is implementing full-blown austerity measures. There [is] no travel and there [is a] freeze in hiring and salary increases until we have some kind of revenue…”
Benavente said he said he has already talked to his counterpart, Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (R-Saipan), who is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, and Welfare Committee.
“If not all, at least we could give [PSS] something, to come to a common ground to alleviate a little bit of the pressure [on] their budget concerns. We consolidate the budget and see where the cuts can be made,” said Benavente. “We are going to look at the total volume of the money that is available and…adjust the allocation based on the priorities.”
He said they are worried how PSS would operate with limited funds. “Short funding could make it harder for PSS to continue with its functions and operations. And that is what we are worried about.”
“We understand that education is economics; we need to invest. The budget [is] short, but we’re trying to figure something to help PSS. We are going to figure out something, we’re discussing with the Senate.”