72 hours could be restored soon

Senate follows House's move to cap FY 2013 budget at $114M
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s special adviser for management and budget Vicky Villagomez told senators yesterday afternoon that the administration has been considering the restoration of at least eight of the 16 hours that were cut from most government employees’ work hours biweekly, to bring the work hours to 72 per payroll for the rest of fiscal year 2012.

Fiscal year 2012 ends on Sept. 30, 2012.

The Fitial administration will be restoring the full 80 hours in fiscal year 2013, which runs from Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013, partly because of a $12 million additional projected revenue.

“There’s discussion of the current collection and if we can support bringing back 72 hours. We’re looking at bringing back everybody to 72 hours for the rest of [fiscal year] 2012,” Villagomez told senators.

Villagomez, however, pointed out that there has been no final decision yet.

Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson, during a Senate session, could not say when that decision to go back to 72 hours will be made.

The administration has seen improved collections in taxes and fees, prompting a consideration of 72 work hours between now and end-September, and to full 80 hours after that.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said it would be “welcome news” if the administration decides to add eight more hours to employees’ 64 work hours biweekly.

He said austerity should not be taken out of employees’ pockets.

The Senate fought tooth and nail to block the House and the administration’s 16-hour cut proposal during the 2011 budget deliberations but the deadlock caused a historic partial government shutdown. The Senate later conceded to a 16-hour cut, mainly to put an end to the partial shutdown that caused the temporary loss of jobs for over 1,000 government employees.

Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), for his part, asked about the cost of restoring 72 hours for the rest of the fiscal year. Villagomez said it would be less than $1 million.

This is based on the calculation that restoring 80 hours in one fiscal year would cost some $6.98 million. If this is divided into four quarters, that would be $1.7 million. But because the plan is bringing the biweekly work hours to only 72 and not 80 and the last quarter of fiscal year 2012 has already started, the cost would be much less.

The normal government work hours biweekly is 80 hours but because of austerity measures, the Fitial administration reduced it to 64.

The 16-hour cut, representing 20 percent of employees’ salaries, is being implemented by closing most government offices every Friday, thus the term “austerity Fridays” in the CNMI.

Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) said her panel looks forward to receiving the actual collection and spending reports from the administration at least for the first three quarters of 2012, and this could help them in deliberating on the 2013 budget.

2013 budget cap

The Senate invited Larson and Villagomez to the session yesterday afternoon to shed light on the governor’s revised 2013 budget that added $12 million more to the original submission of $102 million.

After about an hour of question-and-answer with Larson and Villagomez, the Senate was ready to act on House Concurrent Resolution 17-5, House Draft 1 that the House passed by a vote of 14-0 on Friday.

The Senate voted 6-0 to adopt the concurrent resolution, capping the fiscal year 2013 budget at $114 million, a 12-percent increase from the 2012 budget of $102 million.

Three senators were absent in yesterday’s session: Sens. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), Luis Crisostimo (Ind-Saipan), and Henry San Nicolas (Cov-Tinian).

Taimanao asked where the additional $12 million came from. Larson said most of it-or some $11 million-is from business gross revenue tax collection.

The Finance secretary also said more than half of the estimated $11 million comes from payment of back taxes as a result of the administration’s aggressive enforcement of tax laws and policies. Finance has been entering into tax debt settlement agreements with delinquent taxpayers.

“We want to make sure everybody pays their taxes properly,” Larson told senators.

Manglona wanted to hear from Larson whether the $12 million additional projected revenue is indeed a “conservative” figure. Larson said “yes.”

Under the concurrent resolution, the total identified budgetary resources for 2013 is $133.641 million. Of this amount, $114.320 million is available for appropriation, which brings the budget back to the levels of over 20 years ago.

Senators also asked Larson and Villagomez about Medicaid funding, which senators hope to discuss further during a special meeting planned for Thursday afternoon.

The Senate will hold another special session on Wednesday.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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