Worried over the fate of CNMI scholars, Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee Chairman Pete P. Reyes urged yesterday the House of Representatives to pass at least a piecemeal budget to ensure that funds will be made available to the government scholarship program.
He expressed doubt whether the Legislature would be able to approve the FY 2000 budget proposal in the next few weeks as most members are in the thick of the election campaign for the Nov. 6 midterm polls and it appears both houses will go into long recess until January next year.
This means the government will be forced to run under a continuing resolution, which is based on the spending limit approved the previous year, longer than anticipated — a situation that may affect the funding level for the Scholarship’s Office, according to Reyes.
“Where do we place the students in the continuing resolution? Are they going to be treated fairly,” asked the senator.
Reyes has asked his House counterpart Rep. Karl T. Reyes, who heads the powerful Ways and Means Committee, to study the possibility of passing separate appropriation measures for the scholarship and the medical referral program.
He said this legislative approval ensures the government will set aside money for the two critical programs as their funding for this new fiscal year was cut in light of the shrinking revenues confronting the Commonwealth.
“We need to have a budget before the end of October because the lame duck Legislature will go into recess sine die until the next Legislature,” he explained, saying he doubts whether the new set of lawmakers will pass the budget at all.
“People seem to have ignored that our students are suffering here and abroad. It’s time to pursue this (piecemeal budget) in this Legislature,” added Reyes.
The senator has been vocal about his displeasure on recent regulations mapped out by the administration that cut financial aid to off-island students as well as eliminate assistance to part-time students of the Northern Marianas College in order to prevent deficit.
Weeks before the budget deliberation bogged down, he had lobbied the House to increase funding for the Scholarship’s Office and warned the fiscal budget would not get Senate approval unless the committee’s concerns are not addressed.
Last week, Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio and members of the House decided to defer passage of the budget before Sept. 30, the constitutionally-mandated deadline, to allow a joint review that will consider the administration’s concerns on changes eyed by lawmakers.
According to Reyes, the Senate will also thoroughly check the submission once it is handed over to them by the lower house to trim further government expenditures, like closure of the Manila Liaison Office, while giving additional money to scholarship grants and medical referral patients.
A “sufficient pressure” may have to be applied to have the budget within the next few weeks, he said. “I’m unhappy because I haven’t seen the budget that we are supposed to approve.”